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The Hermit Ram

Theo Coles of the Hermit Ram has become known for his natural expressions of New Zealand through blends, skin-contact and amphorae. Now, he's also planted a baby vineyard of his own, which he tends according to permaculture principles, inspired by the likes of Fukuoka. This is New Zealand as you haven't seen it before.

"I once forgot to press a vat for three months, and that was the best wine. Next year, I did that for all wines. It’s taught me to be prepared to make mistakes and accidents; you might learn from them. I thought I knew everything 10 years ago, and now I think I know nothing. We haven’t even planted the best sites yet!"

People:  Theo Coles

Place:  North Canterbury, New Zealand

Varieties:  Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer

Farming:  Organic with elements of permaculture and regenerative agriculture

Wines: Click here

Did You Know? Through a friend, he found some lined amphorae (he was hesitant to used unlined amphorae as he finds there can be a tendency towards Brettanomyces). He began to work with them for Müller Thurgau, and then explored their potential for Pinot Noir. He also works with oak and stainless steel. He plans on exploring a mixture of all three for his own baby plot when it comes to fruition.

Although much of Theo’s winemaking has resulted out of philosophy and creativity, at heart he is an ecologist:

“My first degree was ecology, so I wanted to focus on that. When you work naturally in terms of winemaking, you’re of course observing the ecology of bacteria and yeasts functioning in balance to make the wines, but we also think about that in the vineyard.” 

So, in addition to the other vineyards he works with (all of which are farmed organically), he decided to plant a vineyard of his own; the focus of which is to find a way to make viticulture less damaging in terms of CO2 emissions. He explains,

“The key focus for the new vines is carbon sequestration — how can we become carbon importers in the vineyard? Traditional vineyards might be beautiful, but the traditional way of managing them pumps out carbon into the atmosphere. We’re producing a luxury good that not everyone can have, so can we do this in a conscious manner? We need to be taking care of our planet.”

He explains that by sowing a mixture of cover crops amongst his young vines over the winter time, he’s been able to ensure that once the wet season is over and when the plants would usually begin to struggle and need more water, the top layer of cover crop and mulch (due to cutting it from time to time) means the soil remains damp, providing the happy young vines with their much-needed water supply. Even after two weeks without rain, the soil is totally damp to the surface. So far, he hasn’t tilled. He says, 

“It’s been alarmingly easy,” he smiles. “People thought I was nuts not spraying and not tilling to develop the soil pre-planting. I’ve never felt super comfortable with the amount of tillage that people do. I understand adding microbial life via biodynamics, and using natural products, but I couldn’t reconcile doing all of that and then tilling. There’s an entire ecology under there you’re destroying; I felt it’s quite damaging. When you look at swathes of countryside with cows and tilled lands, there's also the polluting run-off into rivers which comes with this… and it causes real issues.  Here, we don’t have native dung beetles to take the cow manure away. So I arrived at no-till through ecological thinking. I’ve always had a dream that...

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