Gemtree – Best Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices
by Mariette Morris, 2019 Wine Media Cadet
Winners two years in a row, second time just as sweet as the first.
Gemtree are the winners of this year’s Best of Wine Tourism Award for Best Sustainable Tourism Practices. It is in fact the second year in a row that Gemtree have won this award, proving they are not a “one hit wonder.” Gemtree’s owners, Mike and Melissa Brown agree that the award is a great piece of recognition for their hard work, and nothing beats third party endorsement.
The Gemtree property spans approximately 300 acres and was historically farmed by Melissa’s parents, Paul and Jill Buttery, who established vineyards during the 1980’s. A decade or so later, Melissa asked to work in the vineyards, which is where her biodynamic journey began. Melissa was soon joined by her (now) husband Mike, who is the winemaker for Gemtree.
Biodynamic and organic principles of wine making
The Gemtree journey, using organic and biodynamic principles of wine production, has been long and hard at times, but Melissa and Mike feel that it has been undeniably worth it. The ‘bio-dynamic duo’, have always felt strongly about the health of the environment, and applying organic and biodynamic principles has allowed them to give back to the land they take from.
Part of the Gemtree philosophy is to inform and educate their customers about what biodynamics is, and what it stands for. Melissa told me that,
“There is a lot of misconception out there that we are ‘wierdos’ but there is a science to it, there is a method to it, and it works.”
Biodynamics is an alternative farming method to conventional cultivation and was developed by Dr. Rudolf Steine. It is an ecological, holistic and ethical approach to farming and integrates scientific understanding with recognition of spirit in nature.
Melissa and Mike credit their ability to produce high quality grapes, and in turn premium quality wines, to the fact that they use biodynamic farming practices.
Not content to rest on their laurels, Mike and Melissa are constantly working to improve the sustainability of their business. Since winning last year’s award, they have installed a 10kw solar system in the Cellar Door, a 38kw solar system in the vineyard and a 100kw solar system in the winery. They have also diversified their business in terms of the tourism experiences on offer.
The “Being Biodynamic” tour is a learning experience aimed at demystifying biodynamics. Gemtree’s Biodynamic Hut is full of educational tools to inform visitors about the philosophy behind biodynamic farming, even encouraging them to implement some of the same practices in their own gardens if they so choose. On completion of the tour, guests enjoy a regional platter, and of course, a glass of biodynamically and organically produced wine!
The “Wine and Wander” experience allows visitors to savour the perfect combination of nature, food and wine. Guests are treated to a personalised explanation of Gemtree’s organic and biodynamic philosophies. Wine and Wander participants are then taken on an exploration of the Gemtree Ecotrail, where they are treated to a private wine tasting and dining experience amongst the native flora and fauna.
The Gemtree Ecotrail was started in 2001, when Mike & Melissa made the decision to restore and revegetate a degraded creek line on the property. The Ecotrail is now a biodiverse conservation area with six interlinking dams. They have planted more than 50,000 native plants, defined a walking trail, and introduced native animals such as emus and koalas.
In the future, Mike and Melissa plan to construct a shelter overlooking the main dam adjacent to the Ecotrial. Here, they plan to hold group tastings and provide an undercover area for visitors and tasting experiences.
Mike and Melissa have spent over a decade building up a wealth of knowledge around biodynamics. As a result, Gemtree has really paved the path for other producers interested in growing grapes biodynamically, and they tell me they are open to mentoring those who might be interested.
This year marks a very big 21 years of winemaking at Gemtree and thanks to this biodynamic duo, the land on which they farm is full of life and biodiversity. If the next two decades are any thing like the last two, there are some very exciting times ahead for the Gemtree Team.
Gemtree is open daily from 11am – 4pm. Only a 45-minute drive from Adelaide, you will find them at 167 Elliot Road McLaren Vale. So why not head down to the Vale to discover this biodiverse gem!