Alex Camatta
17 September 2020 | Alex Camatta

The Interview Series #2

In this Interview Series #2, we chat with Murray Leake, one of the Adelaide Hills' most respected viticulturists and a highly regarded member of the team. Alex Camatta, our Tasting Room Manager, spoke with Murray about the upcoming season and the importance of site selection in wine production.

Murray, what was it that drew you to the world of viticulture?

The true answer is by accident.

As a young man I was unaware of careers in viticulture, and a chance discussion with a neighbour, who was a winemaker for Lindeman’s at the time (early 1990s), knowing that I had an interest in wine and vineyards, suggested I should study viticulture. So I did.

With Spring upon us, and coming out of a wet winter, how is the new growing season shaping up? 

Rainfall during the dormant period has been good to replenish soil moisture and fill dams to capacity, which puts the vines in a good position to commence the growing season. The medium term weather forecast suggests a lower frost risk compared to the last two seasons.

Early varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are just approaching budburst, which is about normal. In around 2 weeks, when young shoots have developed and inflorescences are visible, we will be able to assess the fruitfulness, and potential yield.

Site selection has been integral to the Single Vineyard wines. What is it about our sites that make them so suited to their individual varietals? 

While all of our sites in the Adelaide Hills are considered cool climate, our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blocks are situated on our highest altitude and coolest site, at Lenswood, and Shiraz blocks on the warmer site in Balhannah, whereas Sauvignon Blanc grapes are sourced from a wider range of sites across the Adelaide Hills.

Aspect also plays a part in site selection, with the cooler aspects being South and East. This is the aspect for the majority of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at our Lenswood vineyard, whereas Shiraz at Balhannah is on a north facing aspect.

Is there a particular wine from our Single Vineyard range that you’re enjoying right now?

The 2018 Lenswood Vineyard Pinot Noir is drinking beautifully and is stylistically unique to other Hills examples.

Over the past number of years we have changed our management practices to follow organic principles and now are certified organic in transition across both Balhannah and Lenswood vineyards. Can you talk us through this process; what are the benefits of this approach and what challenges does it present our viticulture team?

The whole transition to organic has been less challenging than first thought, and we believe this is due to our measured approach. We spent a number of years addressing soil health with multiple applications of composts, removing all herbicide, reverting to a combination of under-vine cultivation and permanent cover for weed control, as well as removing all synthetic fungicide, insecticide and fertiliser.

We believe by running our vineyards as organic we correct the balance of micro-organisms in the soil that promote nutrient cycling and availability within the soil to support vine growth, which provides inherent resistance to pest and disease. We like to compare soil health and the vine root system to the human digestive system, where microbes support nutrient breakdown and health. In this sense, soil health and biodiversity translates to vine health. Similarly, a healthy population of beneficial micro-organisms on and within the vine canopy and bunches supports vine health, as this then becomes a natural defence system against external diseases.

We further support biodiversity within the vineyard via permanent mid-row swards and designated biodiversity areas in and around the vineyard, providing a habitat for insect-eating birds and micro bats, as well as an environment to support beneficial predatory insects.

One of the most obvious changes we have noticed already is a change in soil structure as well as invertebrate and microbial activity within the soil, which has improved water infiltration from rainfall and root distribution within the soil. We are also not seeing foliar nutrient deficiency symptoms, which in the past were common. The whole system appears more balanced, and we believe this difference in the vineyards will be reflected in the fruit and wine.

Lastly, the acquisition of the Piccadilly site has given us the opportunity to build a vineyard from the ground up. Could you speak to how your approach would differ in 2020 versus 2000 and what this will mean for Shaw + Smith moving into the future?

Piccadilly has given us the opportunity to develop a new vineyard and implement a well thought-out design, using practices drawn from vineyards across multiple regions and countries, using techniques that we believe will work best under conditions and site specifics at Piccadilly.

This vineyard will differ greatly from our existing vineyards by having a higher vine density - 10,666 vines/ha - double that of our next highest density site. Trellis construction will also differ slightly: while continuing with a Vertical Shoot Position (VSP) system, our post height will be lower, row spaces will be narrower, cordon height closer to ground level. In addition new clones of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will be introduced along with some existing clones.

The site itself was chosen because the majority is south facing which, combined with a higher altitude than any of our other sites, will make it one of the coolest in the Adelaide Hills. The higher rainfall at Piccadilly combined with the lower cordon and close row spacing also adds a humidity difference to our other sites.

We are sure the high density planting will present some unexpected challenges, but that is what makes it more exciting! Nevertheless, once complete, we believe it will be a unique vineyard within South Australia, and provide us with a fruit source unlike any other.

Time Posted: 17/09/2020 at 4:02 PM Permalink to The Interview Series #2 Permalink
Alex Camatta
18 August 2020 | Alex Camatta

The Interview Series #1

The intention behind these interviews, which will be a regular feature, is to introduce you to the team members working hard behind the scenes at Shaw + Smith. From our winery and viticultural team, to the tasting room and office, we’ve got some great people for you to meet.

Tasting Room Manager, Alex Camatta, has taken on the mantle of chief interviewer, to share insights of what the team get up to, both in and outside of Shaw + Smith.

In this first instalment of our Interview Series, Alex introduces you to Tara Sullivan, Shaw + Smith’s Wine Club manager and the face behind the emails and updates you receive from us.

Tara, could we have a snapshot of your early years, where you were born, went to school, your early plans and aspirations?

Born in Townsville in FNQ, my family then moved back to Adelaide when I was young. I grew up with parents and 3 brothers in the Adelaide foothills, attending school and University in SA, before venturing overseas at 21, on a year-long backpacking tour of Ireland and Europe. Travelling gave me a greater appreciation for what SA has to offer. Coming back, I was keen to stay in my home state, close to family, and concentrated on fulfilling a long-held aspiration of working in wine. I undertook marketing roles in a variety of industries, including finance, legal and tourism, before making the move to wine, first in the Barossa and then to the Adelaide Hills with Shaw + Smith.  

What was it that drew you to the world of wine?

I believe that SA has a lot to offer as a wine and tourism destination. Wine is fun, and celebratory, creating a sense of occasion, and drinking wine brings people together. Also, the agricultural aspect really appeals to me. It’s great to be involved in something that you really believe in. And being a hills dweller, I have particular regard for this beautiful region. 

Tell us a little about your home life and how you spend your weekends?

Time spent with family is really important to me. I value weekends at home with my husband and daughter on our small property, around 20 acres of relatively hilly terrain. We have a small Chardonnay vineyard on a steep aspect, a real labour of love. My first attempt at making my own wine, pre-Shaw + Smith days, was a dismal failure. We’ve recently handed over the vineyard to a (winemaker) friend to manage and take the fruit.  I’ve had more success with apple cider, made in a ‘Scrumpy’ style. We have a number of apple trees, as well as cherries. Also, a lemon orchard, along with sheep and a few chooks, surrounded by native bush. 

When we first moved to the Hills, I was quite enchanted with the idea of becoming more self-sufficient. I admit to holding dreams of looming alpaca wool in the early days on the property, that never quite eventuated. But we have established a reasonable vegetable garden, a trout stocked dam, and my husband is creating an interesting topiary nursery, which is his thing. 

We are close to the Heysen Trail, so there are some great walking tracks nearby. All in all, it’s a pretty special place to call home. 

Besides sharing with your colleagues, what is it that you do with all the surplus lemons?

Reminiscent of Forest Gump, and Bubba’s litany of shrimp… Limoncello, lemon curd, lemon tarts, lemon cordial, lemonade…

Thank you, Tara. It was great to get a little more insight into the name behind the emails. Before we finish up, do you have a favourite wine memory or perfect wine-drinking scenario you would like to share with us?

Keeping it close to home… a long lunch with friends at the Star of Greece, Port Willunga… Chardonnay in the glass and some delicious seafood, is a great way to spend a Sunday (they are currently pouring our Lenswood Vineyard Chardonnay too!)

With winter still upon us, this scenario paints a welcome picture for what we have to look forward to, come spring.


Time Posted: 18/08/2020 at 2:26 PM Permalink to The Interview Series #1 Permalink