In another example of the Hunter Valley's mines and wines working together, a grape grower is producing a quality fruit used in some of the region's best wines directly above one of Australia’s most productive underground coal mines.
In what is thought to be a world first, Glencore Xstrata has been mining beneath about 90 hectares of vineyards since 2006, while seven vintages have been successfully produced since mining began with little or no impact on the quality of grapes. The vineyards produce up to 250,000 bottles of wine each year.
About half of the mined area is below three privately-owned vineyards – Beyond Broke, Timbervines, and Smith-Leigh. Smith-Leigh is now owned by Glencore Xstrata, with 4 full-time employees operating the vineyards year-round, but considerably more people working on the vineyards during harvest and pruning.
Working with Beyond Broke vineyard
Bob Kennedy has been producing grapes at Beyond Broke since the late 90s, some of which are sold to among the best wine makers in the region. In 2006, Glencore Xstrata mined beneath the vineyard as part of its Bulga Underground operations.
At the time, Bob had some concerns for his vines and the infrastructure around his property, but he was impressed with the way the mine worked through the process, addressed his concerns and continually kept him informed as they planned their mining operations underneath his property.
“One of the concerns that I had was that the change in the shape of the land would impact on the quality and the yield. We collected information prior to undermining, and we’ve collected it since, and there hasn’t any discernible change,” he said. And it's a view Bob believes his customers also share. “I guess it’s shown in that my customers keep on coming back,” he says.
Beyond Broke vineyard produces up to 250 tonnes of grapes of the Shiraz, Semillon, Chardonnay, Verdelho and Pinot Noir varieties each year. Some of these grapes have been used to produce Beyond Broke wine, but most are sold to other premium wineries in the Hunter.
Research and development proving successful
Bob’s vineyard is one of the success stories from the project that began in the 1990s. In consultation with local vignerons, trials were held to develop a vineyard trellis and irrigation system over the nearby South Bulga Mine in 1998, which gave miners and wine makers practical experience of what impacts there may be on the vineyard.
It was a first in Australia, and nowhere else in the world is known to have mined below vineyards before this trial was carried out. Dr Richard Smart, an international viticulture expert, assessed the vineyard as mining got underway. He found that the impacts of mining beneath the operating vineyard would be minimal and manageable and a monitoring program was developed.
Results of the monitoring have been presented each year to a Technical Review Committee which includes wine makers, academics and government representatives. Results so far have shown no long term impact on the vineyards from the mining, just as Bob says.
This research and the experience of Bob and other grape growers shows that it is possible for mining and farming to work together and for vineyards to grow successfully above an operating mine.