The future of winemaking? A Rascal Welcome to Pig in the House

We know.

You’re probably sick of hearing about all the new friends we’ve been making. We’re like some keen bean fresher who’s just moved to University and made a whole bunch of BFFLs.

Well, just hear us out, ‘cos there’s more, and they’re like, so great.

The latest addition to our Rascal Family are Pig in the House. Our third producer from down-under, but our first from the esteemed winemaking region of New South Wales.

As you may have realised, we’ve been making a real push lately to add only the most

Rascal-y, innovative, tree-huggin’ Rascals we can; only the absolute top dogs in the Eco-friendly wine game. These guys are certainly that, and, surprise surprise, they’re another sweet little family producer to boot.

Jason O’dea and his wife Rebecca work tirelessly and uniquely in order to maintain their farm as an environmentally friendly, self-sustaining ecosystem. As it turns out, these guys produce their delicious, vegan wines through completely biodynamic means, making them our second biodynamic producer alongside Kamara, our maker of natural wines.

But as you’ll see, they don’t even want you or us to know that, for fear of an important environmental ethos being seen as nothing more than a mere marketing tool.

But that’s not how we see it, and we know you scrupulous bunch don’t either, so we got it out of them eventually! Read our conversation with Jason below about his wonderful process, and don’t miss an important last word from us at the end!

Starting with Pig in the House, what are some of your favourite things about this vineyard and its wines?

This former free range pig farm was originally selected as a vineyard site due to its aspect, and uniform soil. The decision to farm organically was driven by the birth of our first child and a desire to push the boundaries of viticulture.

When we began the journey we set out our mantra.

Our ultimate desire is to live in a chemical free, sustainable environment producing wine that reflects where we live and what we believe in.

It’s fair to say I have a love hate relationship with this vineyard. It surrounds my house so we see each other often. Sometimes too often.

I am always delighted to watch the season unfold in the vineyard and as the vines mature so do we as a family. There is something really special about this relationship of vines growing up and children growing up. I love the fact that the vineyard is not a monoculture-there are many plant species and critters to be found throughout the vineyard.

The wines are truly a reflection of this place. Winemaking influence is based around adding balance to the wonderful varietal fruit flavours that this vineyard produces.

We do not want our wines to taste like something from somewhere else.

We do not want our wines to be dominated by oak from half way around the world.”

We learned recently that NSW has some of the best examples of water re-usage in the wine world, due to having so little in the first place. Are there any other sustainable practices in particular being done here, perhaps by Pig in the House, that you would like to see more of in other parts of the world?

“A healthy soil is the building block to all good organic farming. A healthy soil holds more water naturally.

The height of the vines has been lifted to allow sheep to graze all year round in the vineyard.

The vines are mulched with ‘’on farm’’ produced straw.

Monitor, experience, learn.

Spending time in the vineyard looking at what the vines are telling you while keeping a constant eye on the weather (boring farmer talk) is critical.

I always like to ask what kind of wildlife our winemakers are up against. Who is giving you grief in NSW? A few kangaroos? Perhaps the odd black widow spider? How do you deal with them in the most responsible way?

We like to think our vineyard is a safe working environment. We do however attract lots of critters due the health of the vineyard floor. When many surrounding area’s have little food often the organic vineyards have plenty (due to soil health and no insecticides).

There are only really 2 constant visitors that can kill you.

Redback spider is common and boots/gloves and under ledges are checked daily.

Brown snake -(commonly known as Joe Blake) these are more common than I would like and have been found in our house. Avoid avoid avoid-not aggressive unless cornered but living 30 min from the nearest hospital does not give you much time to get antivenom.

Other visitors:

Eastern Grey Kangaroo- they hang out under the vines during the heat of day and eat grasses (do not like vine leaves) early morning and late in day. The main danger here is car damage!

Lizards-various-frillneck most common. No harm except potential heart attack when they surprise you.

Insects -plenty and varied however we like to think they are part of the ecosystem and are in balance. A lot of different insects is a far better sign than one insect dominating

My favourite is the ladybird. These are fragile and only found in balanced environments”

Of course, the environmental benefits of organic, sustainable and biodynamic winemaking go without saying. But can there ever be positive effects on the flavour of the wine itself? Or perhaps health benefits for those drinking it?

There is absolutely benefits to wine quality. We take fruit from conventional vineyards and organic vineyards from same vineyard sights. Organically grown fruit has more intense flavour. The organic sites also produce less fruit so this is part of the riddle

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they like drinking our wine because they do not feel anything the following day I would be an organic wine producer!

This is a discussion that requires an open bottle of wine and plenty of time. A few points I would make

If sulphur is an issue then our PF Shiraz will be fine. Organic wines are lower in S as there are limits to how much can be present for export when calling your wine organic

There are many additives that winemakers can use including but not limited to; grape sugar, grape colour and acid. These types of additives are generally used when the fruit is of poor quality. With lower yields and better fruit quality we do not need to add anything to make our wines taste great!”

Finally, I know that you are very passionate about biodynamic winemaking. One of our biodynamic producers in Greece explains that, for him, it is a means of achieving permaculture, as an ultimate goal to reduce the detrimental effect of mankind. What attracts you most to biodynamic viticulture and what would you say you merchants and consumers in the UK to encourage them to try its wines?

Another bottle of wine please.

Biodynamics is a personal choice for us and not a marketing tool. Nothing annoys an organic Biodynamic farmer more than someone claiming this as a marketing edge and 

producing sub-standard wines. In its worst form I have seen winemakers make this claim without being organic which sh*ts me to tears!

We practice biodynamics in our organic vineyards -when I say ‘’we’’ it is mainly my wife Rebecca who ensures this is practiced and timing of applications.

We have been certified Biodynamic in the past but choose to be only certified organic due to previous reasons outlined. So are we Biodynamic – yes we practice Biodynamic principles.

For me Biodynamic farming is largely a way of thinking. It is treating your farming environment as a living organism rather than just a plant growing in a medium (soil).

You need to look at the environment (in my case vines) as a whole not as a crop.

When I look into the vineyard I do not see vines I see a living organism made up of 20 plants, hundreds of insects, thousands of fungi and bacteria (in soil) and animals. If you think this about your farm in this way Biodynamics makes a lot of sense. 

Biodynamics involves minimal interference with what happens naturally in your environment.

It is our job to guide what is happening not to wrestle with the natural environment.

To understand Biodynamic farming is to understand your environment and the impact you have on the environment. As a “guardian” of this land for the remainder of my living days is a huge responsibility.

When we are no longer roaming these lands what do we want to leave behind?

We want to leave behind our patch of earth in a state where future generations will benefit from what we are doing now.

In our view the very heart of Steiner’s thinking is that a farm should become self- sufficient. The use of Biodynamic principles takes a huge step in this direction as many inputs are from within the immediate environment/farm. Straw is grown near the vineyard for the vineyard for example.

The flow on effects of this are obvious for the farmer and the environment in general.”

 

So there you have it. Some great insight on why organic wine tastes better, and why a recent Harper’s article confirmed, biodynamics are all the rage right now

Consumers are getting more and more ethically conscious by the day, and your wine lists need to keep up.

That’s why we’re going to be going to be exhibiting an exclusively vegan and organic selection of wines at the SITT tastings in London and Leeds. So if you want to have a taste of these beauties, you’ll have to sign up quick!

And you won’t get another chance for a little while after that. Turns out organic wine of this caliber requires rather a lot of paperwork and waiting time before it can land on our table. In the meantime, subscribe to our HTML or give us a shout to find out exactly when it gets here.