As organic Australian wine label Minimum makes its debut on the local market, founders Matt and Lentil Purbrick are hoping a sustainable approach to harvesting grapes will inspire wine drinkers to think more about the next bottle they purchase.
The duo's dream to convert a 125 acre parcel of land on their father's existing Tahblik winery in country Victoria into an organic one was inspired by a gap they saw in the market.
The Minimum message is in the name – only doing what is necessary to make wine and to seek the minimum necessary to make that great wine. Which means no toxic chemical fertilisers or pesticides and minimal waste and tapping into more traditionals way of making wine.
Good healthy earth
"We want to focus on soil health and best practice water efficiency to help restore the natural balance and boost the vines natural strength," says Matt.
"The fruit is definitely better quality now and the flavour profiles are richer and more developed," he says.
"We're expecting more and more interesting wines as the years go on when the soil becomes richer and the vines get healthier. The healthiest plants will always produce the tastiest fruits."
Minimum launches with a 2018 Chardonnay and Syrah as well as a 2019 Sangiovese Rosata. There's plans to expand but for now, it's the holy trinity of one white, one red and a rose to whet the appetite. The couple, who split their time between Tuscany and Melbourne, will head back to bottle in time for the 2020 vintage.
The transition to sustainable methods has had a direct correlation to their harvest.
"Our first year saw a slightly lower yield due to the transition," says Matt.
"But the second year into the conversion saw perfect yields despite the hot and dry season. More importantly the fruit is magnificent and less prone to mildew and there's stronger berry skins," he says. "And much more stable sugar levels around harvest time."
Let nature do its thing
When it comes to natural pests, Matt says they haven't had to intervene with nature.
"We have natural predator birds that keep pest birds away and allow small bird species to keep pest insects in check," he says.
"The canopies are stronger now, so they don't succumb to fungal attacks. We still have some natural tools in our certified organic bag of tricks to deal with a particularly difficult situation ... natural versions of pesticides and fungicides... but we're yet to need them."
It's a family business
It's been a three-year journey of business planning with his father (also a winemaker) – converting his mindset to move with the sustainable times.
"It's a classic son and father relationship," explains 33-year-old Matt.
"Lentil and I were so frustrated with Dad because he has this old mentality that hasn't changed since the late '70s," he says.
"He took over Tahblik from my great-grandfather who was successful with the brand and then struggling because he had no desire to get involved in the technological advancement side. Dad did that which has been amazing, but he didn't understand the organic side and that he could actually do less to the fruit and still make incredible wines," he says.
"This has been a bigger journey for my dad than for us," explains Matt, who is half Italian and exploring natural wine making in the northern hills of Tuscany where his maternal side originates.
"Launching Minimum Wines will show the industry we can have much less impact on our environment and still make great wines.
"You create more lively, bright and consistent wines and tell a story too."
The natural wine movement has been gaining momentum in Australia since the early 2000s, many brands on the market aiming for zero interference on the land. Purbrick hopes to inspire others to convert.
Wine made up to the year 1847 was essentially interference-free. Then along came farming chemicals and additives changing winemaking forever. By the 1920s, organic and biodynamic wine came along [thanks to Rudolf Steiner who introduced the first organic farming system] and the rest is natural wine evolution in the harvesting.
Getting the green light
"It's about stopping what you've been traditionally doing – which is using pesticides – and letting nature find its balance," explains Matt
He adds that the natural wine business is already huge in France and Italy.
"Part of this journey for us is to make the space clearer and clarify what all these things mean to be natural," he explains.
"Natural doesn't mean less work though," he laughs.
"It's about being hands on with the grapes, and making tiny little adjustments. We are happy to use natural tannins if we feel that's a style we're going for, but it's always about minimal interference for a cleaner result."