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 film 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. Sometimes we mulch under the vines with old hay, and also tree chippings, when we have them.
The alleys' natural sward supports invertebrates and small mammals, including moles, that maintain soil aeration. We minimmise tractor use, especially in wet weather, to avoid soil compaction.
We never spray copper, which is poisonous and can hang around in the soil.
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.
Buzzards feed in the rough grass around the vineyard
Goldfinches nest in the vines
Hay mulch helps to suppress weeds under the vines and breaks down to give extra nutrition
Natural grass cutting
Hornet, stealing a spider's prey in the vineyard hedge
Letting the sward come up to seed in May and June to promote biodiversity and give habitat to invertebrates and small mammals
“If wine was about place, then Oatley offers a glimpse of England as it was 200 years ago.”
South African Wine News
" I have never been in a vineyard that felt so alive" - Karen Christian - Wine Traveller blog