DELATITE'S David Ritchie prefers to make wines that reflect the region, writes ALEX SAMPSON
In the red duplex soils around Mansfield, David Ritchie grows grapes.
Delatite Wines has been in David's family for decades.
His parents planted vines on the hillside property in 1968 and built the winery in 1982.
It was run by David's mother Vivienne Ritchie until 2002 when she semi-retired and left David and his sister, Rosalind, to manage the business. The siblings did so until December 2005, when Rosalind resigned as winemaker and co-manager.
In 2008, after discussions with his parents, David purchased the company, becoming sole director and shareholder.
He took on winemaker Andy Browning, who previously managed Howard Park's winery at Denmark in Western Australia.
Delatite Wines grows five varieties of white grapes and seven of red. Grapes include gewurztraminer, malbec, tempranillo and graciano.
"Having been in the business for a long time, we have been collecting varieties as we go," David said. "But it would be pretty fair to say we are one of a very small number of very good aromatic wine producers in the country. They are like the delicate whites you find in the cool regions of France and Germany."
David said he would never grow a variety because of commercial pressure.
"We prefer to make good wines that reflect our region, to be consumed by people who know us and love what we do, than make (specified) wines for international supermarket chains," he said.
"The climate is warming up and in terms of weather patterns is no longer predictable - especially with rainfall.
"We may be growing quite different varieties in 20 years."
Climate is all important for Delatite and its aromatic wines.
"Our proximity to Mt Buller enables the whites to ripen very slowly, which in turn allows a gradual accumulation of sugars along with a gradual increase in flavour, with a higher retention of natural acids in the juice," David said.
"You want as long a period of time as possible between when the grapes soften and change colour and harvesting so you can get maximum flavour intensity."
David aims to produce five-to-eight tonnes of grapes a hectare for whites and eight-to-10/tonnes/ha for reds, totalling 100-200 tonnes/year.
Reserve wines are made only when the grapes are exceptional.
David started using biodynamic sprays in 2005 and stopped using fungicides or herbicides other than copper and wettable sulphur.
"However, we have used Roundup once since that time and twice used Ridomil to combat downy mildew - not bad in seven seasons," he said.
Normal protective spraying occurs every two-to-three weeks from early November and every four weeks before harvesting.
"We also use some biodynamic preparations (500 and 501) at different times during the season," David said.
Water is delivered by drip irrigation to supplement rainfall of about 750mm.
The vineyard uses 8 to 10 megalitres of water annually from catchment dams that are augmented from a bore.
Each block is watered two or three times a week from mid-December.
"For the 2011 vintage we didn't need irrigation, and also hardly used it for the 2012 crop," David said.
"And in 2006-2010 we couldn't put enough water on to the vineyard to make up for dry seasons and dry subsoils."
There are two main dams with two backups and a total capacity of 50 megalitres, complemented by a water licence.
"Geologically, our vines are planted on hills that are part of The Wellington Uplands, which runs from Mansfield south-easterly to Maffra," David said.
"The red duplex soils are formed from shales and mudstones from the carboniferous age and a lot of the vineyard blocks are more rocks than soil. This leads to very good drainage and also vines that don't grow too vigorously."
Despite this, the drought was hard on the vines.
"Everyone got a bit of a reality check in the last big dry period," David said.
"When we started in this game, we were one of only a few wineries and watering was not as popular as it is now. There was pride taken in using as little water as possible.
"The huge wine boom meant that volume was prized, across the board, and of course with so many more players, there was much more pressure on the water resources, everywhere."
The vineyard employs 1 1/2 full-time workers, two casual workers and up to 15 seasonal workers.
The winery has 1 1/2 full-time workers, two casual workers during vintage and up to four workers during bottling and packaging.
Three casuals and one full-time employee are needed to run the cellar door. The Ritchies live along a ridge line, a few kilometres away from the vineyard.
"For the last year my wife Catherine and I have been building a beautiful sustainable house in vertical timber on the site where we've lived for 20 years," David said.
"Before that my grandmother lived there.
"We are a bit tucked away, but luckily share the same magnificent views as the winery."
All Delatite wines are made and bottled on site.
"The winemaking facilities probably have one of the best views in the country, overlooking the family farmland toward Mt Buller and Mt Timbertop," David said.