Castagna are one of Australia's best-known premium producers, centred on a biodynamically farmed single vineyard a few kilometres from the town of Beechworth in north-east Victoria. This is high country, 500 metres up in the foothills of the Australian Alps, where the climate can be considered Mediterranean, with cool nights tempering the hot days.
Winemaker Julian Castagna believes that farming following biodynamic principles, which involves organics, homeopathy and a profound and intuitive belief in the forces of nature that influence the environment as a whole, gives him the best opportunity of expressing the terroir to the full. The soils are decomposed granite loams over a clay base, with quartz crystals in the mix and though he is not a scientist (he comes from a background in film making), Julian feels intuitively that biodynamic treatments dramatically improve soil health enable the vines to access nutrients and minerals in the soils more efficiently than conventional farming.
The impact on the environment is such an important consideration here that the new winery was built of straw bales to lessen its carbon footprint. Inside, Julian has installed two egg-shaped vats to experiment with, in the belief that this is the most perfect shape in physics, with the very practical benefit of spreading the lees more evenly and meaning that batonnage is required less.
Vineyard work is done manually, including harvesting, and yields are low. Harvesting is always finished by 11am and the fruit is kept cool before and on arrival at the winery where it is cold soaked for up to six days.
In the winery the fermentations are carried out by indigenous yeasts and Julian interferes with the process as little as possible. Once fermented the wines see 18 to 20 months in the best French oak, 50% new.
The Adam's Rib range is, perhaps unsurprisingly, assistant winemaker Adam Castagna's baby, intended to provide wines of real character and drinkability at an affordable price, made from their own vineyard fruit and grapes brought in from trusted growers nearby. These are small-production wines of a character and quality that belie their price.