BIODIVERSITY AND SUSTAINABILITY

AT OATLEY

 
 

The alleys between our vine rows are natural sward which hasn’t been ploughed, fertilised or sprayed with anything since 1985, It’s now species rich, capturing carbon and nitrogen and providing habitat for small creatures that in their turn attract birds. We let the grasses come up to seed each year, delaying summer mowing until July when plants have seeded and insects and small mammals have finished breeding.


The vineyard is alive with insects, including darters, damsel and dragonflies and many varieties of butterfly in summer. We have roe deer, badgers, hares, rabbits, moles, voles, foxes, buzzards, sparrowhawks, barn and tawny owls, swallows, goldfinches, green and spotted woodpeckers and many more. In 2015 the BBC Natural History Unit visited to see our hornets, which are apparently getting increasingly rare. We like them because they eat wasps and don’t attack us unless threatened.


A quarter of the vineyard has had no herbicide strips directly under the vines since 2010 and the rest since 2013. We control weeds with mulching, strimming and close mowing.


Our  ancient, species-diverse, banked hedgerows are cut only once every 5 years, providing habitat and berries for animals, birds and insects. The bottom of the vineyard is bounded by a small willow-lined stream, home to frogs, toads and eels


We maintain natural areas of rough grass next to the vineyard to give a habitat for wildlife, supporting small and larger mammals, hawks and owls. The hawks help keep blackbirds in the hedge, away from ripening grapes.  Natural scrubby areas and native woodland are regenerating and we are self-sufficient in wood for the house fire.


Terroir and sustainable soil care


The vines need little extra nutrition and since they were planted our rich red soil has had no artificial fertilisers. It is a fertile sandy loam. Nitrogen is supplemented by clovers and vetches in the sward.  We mulch in the lighter prunings of 1 year old canes every spring, aim the grass mowings under the vines and fertilise the vine rows with our own stable manure on a 4 year cycle. Older pruned wood, which may carry trunk diseases, we burn on the house fire.


We never spray copper, which is poisonous and can hang around in the soil.


We aim for low intervention in the winery so the wines are an authentic expression of the year, the variety and the “terroir”. We ask our winemaker  Steve to keep sulphur low when the wine is bottled.


Minimising environmental impact


We minimise pesticide use, using a needs-based approach to ensure we only spray fungicides when strictly necessary and sticking well within dose limits and harvest intervals to ensure no residues.


We use rechargeable electric tools rather than diesel power for many vineyard tasks, including pruning, summer trimming, under-vine strimming and most recently automatic lawnmowing around the house, on our tasting area and in the grassed area at the bottom of the vineyard.


These tools are mainly powered by solar electric panels on our house roof. In the house we also use solar water heating, thick loft insulation, argon-filled double glazing and low-energy lighting, so it’s fairly eco for a 17th C building.


Packaging is a big part of wine’s carbon footprint, especially the bottle. We use lighter weight bottles (400g), FSC-certified labels and natural corks, which as well as being nicer than plastic corks or screwtops are biodegradable, recyclable and support important ecosystems in Portugal. We re-use our boxes when we can.


We sell nearly all of our wine to individuals and most of these are local, ensuring Oatley “wine miles” are low.


We were founder members of the UK Vineyards Association Sustainability Group and follow the Wineskills sustainability guidelines. We are members of LEAF - Linking Environment and Farming, conducting their online sustainability audit annually.






 

Promoting biodiversity

Goldfinch nest in the vines

Buzzard

Hay mulch

Natural grasscutting!

Hornet stealing a spider’s prey. taken by our son Ned during harvest 2011