Meaningful farming in Morgan
The future is sustainable if this family-run business has anything to do with it.
The view from Byrne Vineyard’s eco-suites is spectacular. The hilltop accommodation looks out over sweeping wetlands, native bushland, and 148 hectares of vines planted across vivid red sand and the ancient limestone beneath. Walking trails and the glistening River Murray weave their way through the scene.
The property is run by a team dedicated to sustainability and innovation.
“The vineyard was set up here in the in the 1970s by Penfolds [under legendary winemaker Max Schubert’s watchful eye],” says chief operating officer Geoff Ablett. “It was purchased by the Byrne family in the 1995.”
The late Hermann Von Rieben was the first to settle the Scotts Creek property, near Morgan. The late Sidney Wilcox purchased the property in 1906, built the Wilcox Homestead (aka Mulyoulpko) and planted fruit and vegetables to be sold to the Adelaide market.
“He was smart when he set this property up,” Geoff says. “He was a visionary.”
When the Byrne family purchased the land, they continued what Sidney started. Their focus has and always will be on sustainability. Rob Byrne is now at the helm with his daughter Petria. His grandson Will also works for the family business. Together, they help spread the sustainable ethos (and stellar vegan wines).
Over the years, the homestead went to ruin but in recent years, the family restored it. In 1999, the Bryne family formed the Brenda Park Scotts Creek Wetland Preservation Group and worked hard to remove troublesome carp from the river. For their efforts, they won the Murray River Catchment Environment Award in 2003. One year later, the development of their accredited wetland management plan was the first in South Australia and in 2005 the team added a permanent wetland licence to their achievements and won the SA Great Award for Science and Environment. Of the 20 square kilometres of maintained natural lands, there’s 12 hectares of native scrub for every one-hectare of vineyard. It’s all good news for the 70-plus species of native flora and fauna that call the property home, including Mallee Ringnecks (so vivid green they practically glow) and rare Regent Parrots.
Equally bright is the winemaking team, led by winemaker Mark Robinson and Master of Wine Phil Reedman – both men of vision and intellect.
The Byrne family also grows fruit in Clare Valley so as wine goes, there’s plenty to choose from.
In addition to the Byrne Family Wines brand, there’s the flavour-packed and award-winning Flavabom Vine Dried Shiraz and Flavabom Field White (a heady combination of Semillon, Chardonnay and riesling)and the Sidney Wilcox range which comprises Vine Dried Shiraz (grapes are dried on the vine before being harvested to preserve the natural concentrated flavours and sugars in each berry), the Grenache Shiraz, Oaked Chardonnay, Field White, a Riesling made from plantings dated from 1968, and the Old Vine Zibibbo (an alternative variety also known as Muscat of Alexandria). As the name suggests, the Sidney Wilcox drops are an ode to the man who first started farming the land, in doing so, securing the first irrigation license in the region. Fittingly, they are made specifically to pair with food. It’s safe to say, the late Sidney Wilcox would approve.
“The Vine Dried Shiraz is a real point of difference for us,” Petria says. “The 2014 Vintage was the first we did vine dried and we’ve really worked hard at it.”
“The Zibibbo is actually my go to white wine,” Petria Byrne says. “It’s such an unusual varietal to put in bottle and it’s very unknown. People always expect it to be sweeter than what it is. It’s quite a late harvest and a lot of tender loving care goes into that bottle.”
Winemaker Mark Robinson enjoys working with the variety. “It is a pretty varietal,” he says. “The aromas and the flavours are very different from the more traditional sort of French or Italian white wine varieties and it really stands on its own.”
Zibibbo requires patience. “You’ve got to really wait for most of those really pretty floral characters and honeydew melon aromas to come through,” he says. “It’s the last grape that gets picked off the property. It also takes a bit more time to process; it’s not a simple grape to get juice from so you need to spend about twice as much time pressing, be really gentle and take your time to get the best out of it.”
The field blends are also thrilling. “The white varieties are all harvested together,” Geoff says. “It’s fun to focus on doing things differently. We aim to get the best out of the vines we grow – and let the fruit quality shine.”