Organic Wine – Interview with Settlers Ridge
By Curtis Aiken.
Gone are the days of bourbon and Coke for me, actually soft drink will never set foot in our house again ever and the last bottle of bourbon in my cupboard has been collecting dust for a long time now. We do, however, still enjoy a wine or two at the weekends. When we cleaned up our diet and lifestyle by making healthier choices I thought it may be then end of my relationship with alcohol altogether. Then we discovered Settlers Ridge wines! We have fallen in love with the range of Settlers Ridge wines not only because each and every wine tastes amazing but also because it is one of the healthiest wines on the market, which is right up our alley.
During our last visit to the Margaret River wine region, Settlers Ridge owners, Wayne and Kaye Nobbs, graciously accepted our request to see Settlers Ridge. We sat with Kaye on the verandah overlooking their beautiful vineyard while she told us all about how she and her husband Wayne came to produce some of the healthiest wines Australia has to offer.
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Kaye Nobbs, together with husband Wayne, own a small organic winery and vineyard called Settlers Ridge, in Western Australia’s world acclaimed Margaret River wine region. It is located in the beautiful south west of Western Australia. The following interview and photos were taken at their vineyard late August 2011. Settlers Ridge wines are:
- 100% organic
- very low in natural preservative (some preservative free)
- Asthma and Allergy friendly wines
Kaye, what is Settlers Ridge all about?
Settlers Ridge is definitely a winery with a difference. Our aim was to produce quality wines but without any synthetic chemicals and with extremely low preservatives. We use only nature based and bio-degradable products. The result? Healthier to the vineyard worker, the wine consumer and the environment generally.
Our wines are 100% organic, i.e. certified organic for the vineyard and certified also for production, i.e. we don’t use chemicals to wash the vats. We use sustainable growing, harvesting and processing practices ensuring we don’t pollute the waterways and soil, providing the consumer with a delicious, healthy product.
As a bonus, independent research has shown that chemicals and preservatives are common triggers for asthma and allergies. Our wines, being chemical free, and with approximately 80% less preservative than other wines, result in people being at less risk of asthma and allergies. We use only sulphur dioxide in very minimal amount and also produce some preservative free red wines. We don’t use the preservative Potassium Meta-bisulphite as research shows it can cause instant asthma and allergies in some people. This was born out with the Western Australian Asthma Foundation many years ago when we asked them to assess our wine range.
It must be harder to make wine organic and preservative free or all wineries would be doing it. So, why has Settler’s Ridge chosen to do so?
We always believed that limiting your exposure to synthetic chemical, wherever possible, without being fanatical, was logical and desirable. However, it wasn’t until Wayne, through his work environment, was diagnosed with chemical induced asthma which showed up in wine consumption. His body started reacting to chemical residue and also high amounts of preservative. He experienced shortness of breath whenever he drank wine.
A change in work environment was the best alternative and so we set out to purchase a farm that was surrounded in forest to alleviate any chemical spray drift that may occur with neighbours and to establish a vineyard and winery using only organic practices.
Since our organic wines went on sale in 1997 we have found there are a lot of people that do get similar allergies and asthma symptoms when drinking wine. They are very pleased when they discover our wine range and they aren’t adversely affected making drinking a glass or two a much more enjoyable experience. It is very rewarding when we receive such positive feedback from grateful consumers.
You do have to be more vigilant in the vineyard when farming organically. This together with other criteria you must meet to gain organic certification status does seem to difficult for some wineries who may be thinking of changing to organic methods.
Why is it that some people can drink your organic wine and not have allergic reactions, yet if they drink other organic wines they do?
This puzzled me for some time until I found out that it is an option for organic wineries to use the preservative ‘potassium metabisulphite’. We researched this preservative right at the beginning and discovered that it can cause instant asthma. Because we wanted to produce an allergy friendly wine we chose not to use it from the start. As mentioned above, we also strive to use the least amount of preservative possible without detrimental affect to the wine quality. Some wine makers are afraid to use such minimal amounts of preservative.
I understand that some of Settler’s Ridge wines are vegan, what makes the wine vegan?
There’s a product called Isinglass which comes from the swim bladder of a fish. This is often used as a filtering agent during the wine making process; however we choose not to use it. There are only two wines that we make that are vegetarian friendly but not vegan friendly as we occasionally use organic egg whites. These are our Shiraz and Cabernet. Egg whites are used because they are sticky and if there are grape skins or other particles in the wine it grabs onto them and falls to the bottom. The egg white is extracted so will not be drunk by the consumer but it is a part of the process to make the wine clearer.
For wine enthusiasts, how long will the red wines cellar for and will the taste improve from cellaring?
Absolutely, yes the taste will improve from cellaring. The Shiraz and Cabernet can be cellared for 10 – 15 years at least. We use 80% less preservatives than conventional wineries, but that is still enough for them to be cellared. The tannin from the skin of the grape and the tannin from the wooden barrel impart some natural preservative as well.
The Blend 51, Pure Red and Sangiovese contain no preservatives or chemicals but there’s a small amount of tannin from the grapes red skins and seeds. These varieties are oak treated for a minimal amount of time, but they still receive natural preservative from the tannins in the wood making it possible to produce them without adding other preservatives. These varieties will cellar for around 4 years.
Because your wine is organic, do I need to consume the entire bottle in one sitting?
No, this is the good news. It’s just like any other wine, when you open it up it can sometimes be better when decanted or even the very next day once it’s had a chance to breathe.
Is there a reason why you only make the red wines preservative-free but not the whites?
The tannins from the skins of the red grapes create a naturally occurring preservative whereas this is not the case with the white grapes, this is because when white grapes are pressed the skins and seeds are discarded. With red wines, you want the rich red colour and the tannin comes from the skins. There are some conventional white wines which are preservative free, but they use a chemical to act as a preserving agent. Settler’s Ridge is chemical free so this is not an option for us.
Where can people buy Settler’s Ridge wine from?
Our wines may be purchased from our cellar door in Cowaramup in the Margaret River region or online through our website: www.settlersridge.com.au and other retailers within WA and one outlet in Monovale in Sydney (These are listed on the website.) We ship within Australia but don’t yet have the capacity to ship internationally.
Can you give some advice for living a long, happy and fulfilling life?
- Finding balance in your life is sometimes difficult but worth striving for. We all need to earn a living, but if we can do it by working in an environment that we are passionate about it makes getting up and going to work much more enjoyable.
- Choose organic food where possible and limit your exposure to synthetic chemicals without stressing too much. There are already enough pollutants in the environment from vehicle exhausts etc. and there’s nothing you can do about it; none of us want to give up our vehicles. However, when it comes to what you consume, you can make smart choices. If you avoid organic foods because you find them dearer then either grow your own vegetables where possible or try to compromise somewhere else. What you put into your body is really important. Just because you can’t see the harm doesn’t mean it is not occurring and could manifest itself somewhere, sometime as something undesirable.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. I think we are all guilty of this. I have found myself doing just that then I try to rationalise: In the scheme of things how important is it really? What is the worst thing that may happen? Also sometimes we ask far too much of ourselves. We have to find time to enjoy the fun stuff and spend time with family and friends.
- Cut out toxic people or limit the time you spend with them. Some people, who may have the best intentions zap our energy and are negative. Try to change the subject and continue to follow your dreams and importantly, find time to see the humour in the world around you. A smile costs nothing, makes us happy and is fortunately contagious.