The Mount Majura Vineyard

The site for Mount Majura Vineyard was selected from a geology map, exploiting a small patch of limestone on an east-facing slope.

The limestone is mixed with volcanic rock, and both are very old, dating from the Silurian (430 million years). The red, iron-rich soil that has developed from these parent rocks has an almost neutral pH, some clay that gives water holding capacity, and excellent structure, allowing water to infiltrate and roots to penetrate to depth.

When you consider the Canberra climate, with its warm summers and relatively low and unreliable rainfall, the value of good soil is obvious. The most important feature of the climate from a viticultural point of view is its continentality, with large differences between summer and winter temperatures, and between day and night temperatures. This explains the relatively good ‘homo-clime’ or climate match to Spanish regions such as Ribera del Duero, so it is no surprise that tempranillo and other varieties such as shiraz, that suit a continental climate, do well here.

In this region, where spring frost is always a threat, the slope is a significant feature. The vineyard rises from 660 metres to 700 metres in altitude, giving good cold air drainage and an almost frost-free location.
As you can see from the map, the vineyard curls around a small hill, with the Pines block facing south-east, around to the North Block which faces north-east. We’ve planted different varieties accordingly, with riesling and pinot gris in Pines, where they’re sheltered from the prevailing north-westerlies and afternoon sun, while later ripening reds are planted to the north.

Dinny’s Block is the original vineyard, planted in 1988, with rows running north-south, across the slope. The North block was added in 1999, and the Pines and Rock blocks in 2000, and these are oriented east-west, up the slope. The original plantings were of pinot noir, chardonnay and ‘merlot’ (actually a field blend of cabernet franc and merlot, with a couple of rows of cabernet sauvignon thrown in). These were also planted in the expansion, but shiraz, riesling, pinot gris and tempranillo were introduced. The vineyard remains a work in progress, with some grafting or replanting taking place each year, as we consolidate the best performers, trial new varieties, and abandon the least successful. Tempranillo is now the most-planted variety (20%) and reds make up 60% of the total.

Managing the vineyard is the first and most important part of winemaking, so naturally we do it gently. Integrated pest management reduces our need for chemical inputs, and an under-vine slasher has replaced the use of herbicide. Through this approach, we’re letting the soil retain and develop organic matter, and we’re growing grapes that ferment well. The viticulturist’s job makes the winemaker’s job easier, and allows our wines to more clearly and naturally express the character of the vineyard.