Members of the Huia team harvesting local seaweed for vineyard treatments
In 1991, Claire and Mike Allan first purchased their land at Huia in Marlborough, New Zealand, then planted in 1994 and released their first vintage in 1997. "We planted grapes and tried to be as organic as possible at that time, although in our sphere there was not a lot of accessible information," said Claire. "Initially, we entered the estate vineyard into the New Zealand Winegrowers Sustainable Program, then also the winery by 2000. However, we found this was not offering enough in the organic/biodynamic area."
Committed not just to the quality of their wines but also the the environment, the Allans joined the Carbon Footprint Movement, "to minimize usage of carbon as part of the annual audit." And in 2005, they were accredited Carbon Neutral in their vineyards, winery and business, which includes shipping to foreign ports.
Two years later, they started to work closely with BioGro, entering the Organic Certification process in 2008 and following with their entry into the Demeter Bio-dynamic certification process in 2009. However, by 2012, as their processing fees were multiplying and accruing they decided to consolidate and commit their certifications solely to BioGro, while maintaining the biodynamic and carbon neutral techniques that they'd learned.
To draw beneficial insects to their three blocks of vines, the Allans drill their vineyard rows with seeds in the winter to provide wildflowers as food and pollen, which brought an increase in the number of ladybugs and native wasps living amongst the vines. However, said Claire, "There has been a real shortage of bees in the valley due to insecticides and some weed sprays, so we put in our own hive, which has thrived." So much so, that this year they added another box to the bee skyscraper.
Matt who works the vines and the hives
Subscribing to the biodynamic practice of maintaining biodiversity in the vineyard, the family (with their two daughters Tui and Sophie) set their cows free to wander amongst the vines, mainly in the winter, just as they solicit their 'help' with the biodynamic preparations that are applied to the compost. To promote the overall health of their ecosystem, they apply "compost tea", and biodynamic preparations, in addition to employing sprays made from "finely ground local seaweed" to help thicken grape skins.
With three different plots that total 32ha, Huia crafts wines that are expressive of terroir. The family's original 9ha are called "Home" and were planted to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir in 1994, and Chardonnay in 1995; while "Shipley", which is across the road from "Home", was planted to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris in 2005. Located in Marlborough's Rapaura district, on the "Golden Mile" (one of Marlborough's most premium sites), the vines here thrive here in free-draining alluvial silts and stony soils that sit close to the Wairau River.
Named "Winsome," Huia's remaining 15ha are located on the southeast outskirts of Blenheim, under the Wither Hills and close to the sea. Here the soil consists of rich clay that was planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling in 2002 and 2005.
Burying biodynamic preps
To share their natural practices with likeminded growers, Huia belongs to MANA – Marlborough Natural Winegrowers – a group that consists of seven wineries, all of which are organic, estate growers with independent cellars that are joined by a "common belief in traditional, natural, artisanal winegrowing to create truly expressive and unique wines."
"Our vineyards have changed in their feel and look," said Claire. They "are alive in the soil and the canopy," she added. "The wines are very expressive of the terroir, which is increasing as we go along...The further we go down the track, the more evident it is that healthy clean vineyards are great places to live and work and produce more characterful wines, and every year they seem to just get better."