I find the motion of a helicopter unsettling. A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I had to fly in one. I got so sick the nurse who was with me said I looked closer to death than the critically injured patient we were transporting.
So these days, on the rare occasions when, through the kindness of friends like my neighbour Phil Ross, an opportunity presents, my pre-flight check involves confirming with the pilot that a) it will be a short flight and b) there won’t be any sphincter-clenching leave-your-stomach-behind Chickenhawk-medivac-under-fire nonsense going on.
That said, it’s a trip hovering and swooping over a landscape you thought you knew intimately. In the case of our vineyard, there is also the serious business of checking whether the fertiliser you’ve been applying is cutting the mustard.
Viticulturalist Bob Swinburn, who was writing a piece about Terroir, asked me recently what was my take on that concept. I said that while my wine had certain recognizable characteristics that presumably were to do with the soil on my patch, I couldn’t get too precious about the subject because every year I do soil and petiole tests and where necessary correct pH and mineral deficiencies. I also use (literally) shitloads of home-made compost, but if – pax to the Biodynamicists amongst you – the tests my friend Karl Reidel does for me show, say, a boron deficiency, I have no compunction about correcting it. Australian soil is ancient and impoverished. Vitis vinifera evolved in the Northern Hemisphere. Vines are great scavengers, and it is, in my opinion, a mistake to mollycoddle them, but if you want them to perform I think it is reasonable to make sure they are not deprived of essential nutrients.
Left: Vineyard 2013, Right: Vineyard 2005
In 2005, when I was struggling to look after both Mount Terrible and another vineyard I set up next door, mine was looking decidedly the worse. But after seven years of soil and petiole analysis, and where identified the judicious correction of mineral deficiencies, it’s looking as if that state of affairs is reversed. Isn’t science wonderful?