A family tragedy led Dru Reschke to rethink everything.
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Dru Reschke leads by example. His Koonara winery was certified organic in 2017, the first in Coonawarra. “Everyone wants you to be first to test the waters. Thankfully we can attest to the fact that the water is fine.” The wines are proudly pesticide-free, vegan-friendly and low in both sulphur and residual sugar.

Reschke’s journey to organic certification began in 2005 when his father, Trevor, was diagnosed with cancer. Trevor believed his illness was compounded by the conventional pest and weed controls he had handled in the vineyard. Koonara started to use organic practices in Trevor’s memory, however, it didn’t take long to discover the myriad benefits.

The most surprising benefits were fiscal. Koonara’s organic practices have reduced costs by a massive 30%. It is a trend Reschke sees consistently – organic agriculture, if done properly, actually saves money.

Native grasses and low flowers grow between and under the vines. These attract predatory insects, which feed on the bugs traditionally targeted by pesticides. The additional plant growth also provides an extra 1% of organic material to the soil and this, in turn, retains more than 340,000 litres of water per hectare.

Extra moisture and green grasses regulate temperature, absorbing heat rather than reflecting it like dirt and rocky cover. Where neighbouring vineyards record a damaging 35˚C under the vines, Reschke’s vineyard sits comfortably in the high 20s. Sheep take control of mowing and shoot-bashing the vineyard.  

Not one to rest on his laurels, Reschke is constantly looking for the next step. Koonara was the first vineyard to spray Bacillus subtilis, a probiotic that heightens chlorophyll production. The result was a staggering drop in snails and millipede populations and now that the soil is able to support its own population of B. subtilus, their numbers remain naturally low.

The picture is of a vineyard where health is cyclical – a genuinely balanced ecosystem. The vines are healthier than they have ever been and Koonara, on average, only spray their vines twice a year with organic compounds. Reschke makes the analogy between vineyard and human health. “Get the nutrition right and it stays healthy and disease pressure drops.”

He is open about the fact that he didn’t invent this particular wheel, and is quick to point out the efforts of fellow Aussie Graeme Sait, a soil expert who worked alongside Woolworths South Africa’s ‘Farming for the Future’ initiative. That group concluded that conventional farming reduced the soil’s carbon content and biodiversity, resulting in crops with less nutritional value. The program taught farmers regenerative farming techniques while Woolworths was named Responsible Retailer of the Year award at the World Retail Awards.

Many of their techniques have inspired Reschke’s own practices.

What is needed, he says, is a tipping point. If he can convince others to make changes, there could be a domino effect across Australian vineyards. He is happy to share his knowledge, too. All Koonara’s organic principles are publicly available online and he discusses them in his blogs.

People are listening. One of Australia’s biggest wine companies has taken his advice and now mow only every second row, allowing flowers to grow back.

It seems like a small thing, but Reschke is confident that the results will encourage further changes. By his calculations, if every vineyard in Australia followed his example, the carbon retention of the soil would remove the equivalent of 4.5 million cars from the road. It would also save $988 a hectare annually. Given that Australia has some 170,000 hectares under vine, that’s a whopping $168 million a year.

Maybe the drive for this change has to come from us, the wine drinkers. In a world where more people are searching for organic produce, the demand for organic wine will only increase. The lesson learnt, after speaking with Reschke, is that the wine we drink, and how it’s grown, could help change the world.

Read Dru Reschke’s blog via koonara.com