Terra Sancta | The Story of Regenerative farming at Terra Sancta
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Inner Sanctum

The Story of Regenerative Farming at Terra Sancta

The Good Schist: Healthy Soils - Healthy vines - Healthy Fruit - Wonderful Wines.

Our vineyard practices encourage and preserve the existing ecosystem through organic techniques such as sowing cover crops and using our team of animal friends for a number of tasks.

In the early days of Terra Sancta there was one piece of advice that stood out - ‘find the best vineyard you can because you can’t outperform your vineyard’. Guided by this wisdom all paths led to Bannockburn.

Terra Sancta loosely translates to “special place”. Set amongst the thousands of trees planted at Sancta in the late 1980s, along with the wild thyme and briar rose that occupy the border of Terra, our environment is alive and humming. From the outset our vision was to harness and enhance the unique characteristics of our vineyard ecosystem, by employing organic and regenerative practices. Our end goal is always delicious wine. It is important to us however that our wine is created within the context of an overall healthy, vibrant, interconnected farming system - one which is self-sustaining, self-regulating and where off-farm inputs are limited.

Through trial, error and a whole lot of learning Terra Sancta’s own unique farming system - both organic and regenerative - emerged.

This combination is surprisingly rare.

Organic farming tends to focus mostly on what chemicals (herbicides, pesticides, fungicides) not to use. The assumption is that, if you do not apply these ‘cides’ you end up with a healthy end product.

However, organics can be seen as simply not degrading the vineyard, rather than positively creating a healthy ecosystem. This is where regenerative farming comes in.

Regenerative farming is focused on enhancing the health of the ecosystem with a deep emphasis on soil health. Everything begins and ends in the soil. Regenerative is simply returning the biological resources to the living ecosystem to support new, healthy, biological growth.

The origins of our farming system began with an early foray into organics during our first vintages. Our focus turned to soil health in 2016 with the introduction of seasonal sheep, two very cantankerous goats and the planting of inter-row beneficials. Despite the obvious attitude problem of the goats, animals have since become an ever increasingly important aspect of our approach to farming.

Enter 500 hens - give or take - because they were completely free range, pasture raised and free to do whatever they pleased. What did please them along with their incessant peaking and pooping and scatching and scraping - great for soil health - was their regular delivery of absolutely delicious Terra Sancta eggs - great for team health.

In 2018 we ran a very small scale trial of Baby Doll sheep at Terra Sancta. They showed promise and unlike the goats were actually likeable. Consequently we have continued to introduce animals to the mix, more recently becoming home to a permanent team of 27 Baby Doll sheep, along with the seasonal addition of 200 grazing sheep. While our teams of animals add to a sense of aliveness and provide no end of entertainment and exercise as we chase the “jumpers” around the vineyards, most importantly they add over 50 tonnes of manure to our soils annually, which they evenly distribute throughout the vineyards as they graze. Manure will be delivered wherever there is a delicious feast to be enjoyed! As well as the nutrient gain, as an added bonus, in early spring we avoid at least a few passes of the tractor as they cut down on the amount of machine mowing otherwise required. They continue to amaze us with their outstanding work ethic - the living embodiment of the saying, do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. They are some happy, fulfilled, (and well fed) sheep!

In addition to the 50 tonnes of animal generated manure, we also run an on-site composting programme. Grape marc and other organic matter which is a by-product of the winemaking process e.g. stalks and skins, is composted on site at our “mound of microbes” and then re-distributed back into the vineyard.

Adding to this total picture of vineyard health is our no-till approach to farming. This required investment in specific machinery which enables us to mow and control weeds without the need to disrupt soil integrity with the use of either herbicides or tillage. The health benefits flow not only to our team - humans and animals - but this no-till approach enhances the structure of the soil and both sequesters carbon in the existing soils, and, over time, builds more soil, holding more carbon - which acts as a carbon sink (good for climate change).

So what have we seen as a result of these regenerative practices?

An inter-vine exploration of Sancta with one of New Zealand’s leading herbalists, Isla Burgess, identified over 30 medicinal herbs growing wild amongst the vines including St John’s Wort, Horehound, Wild Asparagus, Viper’s Bugloss, Californian Poppy, Shepherd’s Purse and Red Clover. A wonderland of botanicals bursting forth and proof of a diverse and abundant ecosystem.

Recent soil samples taken from across Terra Sancta are testament to the health we can see with our own eyes. With no additives on the vineyard, and after some years of cover crops and the rotational use of sheep and hens, our soils are very healthy - high in available nitrogen (with no fertiliser), as well as all the stuff that really takes time to build up - potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium. These nutrient levels have increased materially since 2016, when we began our regenerative program.

Our vineyards and resulting fruit have now achieved such balance that all Terra Sancta wine from Mysterious Diggings to Slapjack Block and our Rosé are made using naturally occurring fermentation. Good natural balance from the vineyard allows us to produce wine with zero acidification, no additives, other than minimal sulphur at bottling and we have not filtered a red wine since 2016.

Our wines embody the vitality of our vineyard. Healthy soil - healthy vines - healthy fruit - wonderful wines!