At Inkwell, we believe that there should be nothing added to - and nothing to take away from - the process of wine-growing and wine-making to craft the wines we dream about.
We call it human scale wine-making - the “as simple as possible, but not simpler” place required to make outstanding, age-worthy wines that can only be from Inkwell’s California Road vineyard in McLaren Vale. The goal is wine that slowly reveals the beauty and character of our distinguished vineyard and connect our vines with people who value the joy found in wine made on a personal scale.
We have progressively scaled wine growing and making back to its roots by handcrafting wine from grapes grown on our forty acre vineyard with the basics: an old tractor, a 140 square metre wine shed, twenty amps of single phase electric, one forklift, one de-stemmer, one press, one pressure washer, one pump and two fanatics in love with the journey.
To make this happen, we have removed as many inorganic products as we sensibly can from every part of Inkwell’s wine growing and wine making over ten vintages to best express our site in single vineyard wines.
By doing so, we have discovered that the space created by removing the man-made magically creates room for man and nature alike - friendship, joy and connection somehow transform the wine. This you can taste.
As dreams are always a journey, this website describes ours.
Inkwell’s vineyards have been progressively improved using sustainable farming principles and methods since we acquired the property in 2003. Because the vines are the center of everything we do, we are always learning how to work with them to produce great fruit. The vineyard’s journey is Inkwell' source code - the guide to what we do.
We are vine listeners. The first vines to speak to us loudly enough were in Shiraz Block 2 in 2003 (they said "help!"). We initially removed invasive blackberry nightshade weeds for six weeks by hand because herbicides would have killed the vines as well. The results were so good, we just kept going in this organic direction.
In an effort to control more weeds naturally, we replaced the vineyard’s mid-row of annual weeds with a permanent grass sward in 2004. The soil stopped cracking open in summer by 2006 - even in drought - and the competition with the new grass caused the vines to produce smaller grapes with more intense flavors. And, the vines started to balance themselves while most weeds disappeared.
We began the process (it never ends) of restoring six acres of native scrub in 2005 and eliminated inorganic fungicides and pesticides in 2006. Spiders and birds re-appeared. Native birds now chase exotic birds (who used to eat the grapes) away. We now have at least twenty bird species bugging each other (but not the grapes so much) now. Kangaroos, rabbits, foxes, lizards and snakes also reappeared and keep each other in balance.
Because half of a grape vine is below ground, we spend as much of our attention on soil, root life, nutrition and soil moisture management as we do with the visible portion of the vine.
By 2007, we had removed herbicides from regular use and started using additions of organic matter to build soil carbon and fertility. In 2010, we began using an increasingly biological approach where silica, humates, fulvates, kelps, mineral dust and other natural materials are used to activate and improve root life and store carbon in the soil.
All of our vines are pruned by hand and under-vine weeds are mechanically “knifed,” mowed, disced or removed by hand to encourage deep root growth. While we still pick some of our thirty acres of low yielding Shiraz, Grenache, Mouvedre, Primitivo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier fruit with machine harvesters for our winery customers, each year we employ people to hand pick whole bunches into small bins for delivery to our on-site wine shed for Inkwell.
Fruit ripeness is the magic moment when increasing sugars (measured in Beaume, or “Be”) and decreasing acids (measured as Total Acidity or “TA”) in fruit reach an optimal balance of flavors. We try to capture the excitement we experience when our grapes reach that magical intersection in all of our wines.
As higher sugar levels translate to higher alcohol content and too little acid makes wine taste dull and become unstable, the trick is to deliver full ripeness and flavors at modest levels of sugar with enough natural acid that none is required to be added in our wine-making. Inkwell's progressive vineyard practices get our vines to full ripeness at lower sugar levels than in conventional vineyards.
When we principally sold fruit to winery customers, we would pick Inkwell’s fruit at the same time as our customer’s fruit. This approach did not result in the wines we dreamed about.
We decided that to be able make exceptional wine, we had to pick when the fruit told us to, not when a customer did. Handpicking was the only solution.
With handpicking, we bring fruit into the shed at about the same speed as we are able to de-stem bunches into very small fermenters. The ferments are cleaner, flavors fresher, while whole fruit and bunches are preserved well into fermentation. Best of all, the ferments doesn’t get 'hot' and require the industry standard regime of chilling. That means less electricity used and a smaller carbon footprint.
Handpicking was the step that led us to the notion of human scale wine-growing. We realised that our methods and imaginations had been built around what machines are capable of and not necessarily what we wanted to have happen.
Michaelangelo said he didn't carve stone statues; he only released figures from the stone they were enslaved in. We think wine is no different.
Dudley Brown and Irina Santiago-Brown are both mid-life converts to wine-growing and wine-making in Australia. Originally from the USA and Brazil respectively, we are, um, fanatical about our vines and wines. We had careers in high tech and government that we left behind to “be the change.” Dudley to become a grape grower and winemaker in McLaren Vale, Irina to pursue a Masters and PhD in Sustainability in Viticulture at the University of Adelaide.