Tech and the Boutique Winery, an Interview with Martin Siebert of Tokar Estate

Most mornings you can find Martin Siebert walking the vineyards at Tokar Estate in the Yarra Valley. He’s recognisable by the Indiana Jones-style fedora he wears rain or shine, and the impressively white t-shirt.

There are thirty acres under vine at the boutique winery Tokar Estate. “The youngest vines are now twenty, so they are deep rooted, full of character and tough,” says Siebert. Regional classics like pinot noir and chardonnay feature, as well as tempranillo, which grows potently in the soils here producing deep purple wines known for their tannins.

Under Siebert’s watch the estate has been gently changing practices over time. His vision is to enrich the vineyard and make unique, expressive wines by turning to nature and custom technologies.

“Before I started managing the vineyard, it was perfectly manicured with herbicide-treated strips of bare earth beneath the vines and beautiful lawn down the rows. It looked neat and tidy, but the soil was like concrete. We’ve been working since to bring the soils and vineyard back to life.”

Now the vineyard operates like a wild, thriving system. Long grasses and dandelions grow between the vines, which are fed by rich liquid fertilisers from a worm farm that’s powered by scraps from the winery restaurant and flushed by the rain. Insects are allowed: beneficial ones knock out the malicious few that might otherwise attack the grapes.

“I like to think we do the hard yards in the vineyard, growing balanced vines in a sustainable way, picking the fruit when it’s perfectly ripe, then guiding the fruit into wine with minimal intervention. Working with healthy grapes picked at the right time makes life in the winery so much more pleasurable.”

Recently the state of the soils was checked using electromagnetic (EM) mapping technology. This produced soil profiles for the entire vineyard, which Siebert relies on as the basis for precision viticulture practices.

“From the maps, we could see changes within our tempranillo block. We’ve responded by setting up a block-within-the-block that is treated and picked separately based on its different soil.”

Cloud winery management software is another technology that hums away in the background. With the Vintrace Boutique app on his mobile, Siebert has the full picture of winery operations available as he goes.

“I love having my winemaking records in the cloud and accessible on my phone. Because I can enter any winemaking procedure as I’m doing it, my records are always up-to-date. When I’m tasting barrels, I can add observations straight into Vintrace for future reference. I can scan a QR code on a barrel and get the wine’s history, volume and lab results. The admin side of my job is far more organised now, giving me more time to play with the wines and vines.”

The estate’s tempranillo provides ample scope for playful winemaking. “With so little grown in the region, there isn’t an expectation of what a ‘Yarra temp’ should be. I’ve felt the most freedom with this variety.”

Siebert has conjured nearly everything conceivable from the grape: rosé, fortified wine, light-bodied fruity wine, and a dark, dense version barrelled in 100% new oak. “This year I filled a 1,000L Spanish terracotta amphora with tempranillo grapes for a wild ferment left on skins for four months before pressing and returning to the amphora for maturation. The tannins have knitted together beautifully and we’ll bottle this wine as a special release.”

The easygoing guy in the explorer’s hat makes thrilling wines. He talks about winemaking so convincingly it’s hard to imagine a more decent way to live. In well under a decade he has orchestrated a mini revolution for Tokar Estate, taking it from polite to verdant with help from nature and the tech available from his phone.

“I love having my winemaking records in the cloud and accessible on my phone.”

Martin Siebert, Winemaker,
Tokar Estate, Coldstream, Australia

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