Our chief winemaker, David Lowe, shares his take on ‘low intervention’ wine
Low (or minimal) intervention is a style of winemaking that has been growing in popularity across Australia and the world. Depending on who you ask, you’ll likely get a different definition of what this practise entails. For some winemakers, it’s the idea of returning to how wine was made hundreds of years ago, nothing added, and nothing taken away.
For others, it might mean removing any harsh products in the vineyard or winery. And for most, it’s a combination of many factors based on the winemaker’s own beliefs and style. This all adds up to be a confusing landscape for wine drinkers.
We wanted to kick off the new year making sure our customers and friends know exactly what we mean when we talk about low intervention here at Lowe Wines.
So, David set out to define his style, what we’re calling “Lowe-intervention”.
David practises Lowe-intervention through two lenses:
- Doing little to achieve a lot (in the vineyard, winery, and farm)
- Balancing how and when we intervene to achieve quality and sustainability
We start by building up the environment, encouraging diversity in soil, plants, insects, and animals.
The goal is not to kill anything, but rather use and support the natural system to establish a balanced ecosystem where our grapes can thrive.
This begins by removing all processes that are synthetic. Farming organically and biodynamically means no pesticides, herbicides or harsh chemicals are used on our vines. Instead, we help build up the soil health using biodynamic compost and preparations that promote growth.
Healthy soil means our vines are better equipped to fight disease, minimising the number of sprays we must do throughout the season.
Cover crops planted throughout the vines help with biodiversity and storing carbon in the soil. And rather than use machinery, our livestock graze through the vines to keep the grasses down, fertilising as they go.
We then consider the grapes
By hand-harvesting and not using abrasive machinery, we pick only the grapes quality enough to be used in our wine, which also minimises risks associated with disease and fungus.
The higher quality the grapes, the less we need to intervene later in the winery.
Yeast is what kicks off the fermentation process. There’s no wine without yeast, and yeast is everywhere (even on grapes). So rather than use yeast cultured and made in laboratories, we look to the grapes themselves to start what we call wild fermentations. This essentially means we crush the grapes into vessels and then sit back to wait and watch the ferments take place.
In the winery, some believe that temperature control is another intervention to be avoided, we feel that it’s a precaution we must take to ensure the quality of our wine is the best it can be.
We take a similar approach to sulphur (S02). When conditions are right, we make some of our wines completely free of this preservative, but many of our cuvees will see a small percentage of S02 used.
Most of our wines go through a light filtration process (to make sure no large particles, or spiders, make it into the bottle). When it is right for the wine, we might leave it unfiltered, but for most we avoid any invasive fining process as this removes particles that can help flavour, structure, and express terroir of the wine.
There’s no way to make wine without any intervention, but we aim to not overstep nature too much; letting the health and quality of the grapes lead our decision making from the ground up.
David has learned these practices take time and commitment to bear reward. What he predicted he could do easily in 5-10 years, after inheriting a broken vineyard and farm overrun with weeds, has taken 22 years, and he’s only reached 60% of his goal (a classic miscalculation).
There’s never a perfect formula, just keep trying our best and continue to learn as we go.
Words by David Lowe and Nicole Bruno.