Sustainable Viticulture & Winemaking


Our mission is to continue to find ways to improve how we farm and make wine. The truest definition of sustainability in our minds is;
‘Ensuring Ricca Terra is handed onto the next generation of caretakers in a condition that is better than it was received and in a position where it can continue to contribute to the wellbeing of the environment, society and the stakeholders who rely on its existence’.


The term sustainable in the world of farming is somewhat challenging to precisely describe. It is a complex topic, and so it should be! Our views regarding sustainability have come from years of observing, investigating, learning, experimenting and finally considering! Our philosophy on this matter may not sit easy with everyone. Living in utopia we do not, our approach we feel is balanced and realistic. Most importantly, our beliefs and path forward on this subject will continue to evolve. We still have much to learn.



Many people think organic farming is sustainable, compared to the conservative, conventional and industrial approaches many mainstream farmers employ. Organic farming implies that no synthetic chemicals are used in the growing of their produce (nothing is applied to organically certified crops that can cause harm to the consumer). For grape growers, sulphur and copper are the main chemicals allowed to be used to manage diseases.

The ‘industrial farmers’ could argue that modern technology has paved a path to the development of management techniques and tools; such as tractors that consume less fuel, multi-row equipment that significantly reduce soil compaction or advancements of softer and environmentally safer chemicals that require less frequent applications, are equally or more sustainable than their organic counterparts.

As the visual appearance is our first measure of quality (blame advertising for this), it must be a difficult scenario for organic farmers to grow ‘perfect’ produce that the consumer now expects as the norm when buying from the supermarket giants. A greater mountain to climb for these organic growers is to do so and be profitable!

To start a conversation around what sustainability stands for, we need to immediately understand that it has little relationship to organic management practices. Organic production is a subject on its own. Bundling organics into conversations surrounding sustainability dilutes the importance of both ideologies. Organic principles are heavily governed by authorised bodies such as NASSA and Australian Certified Organics, whereas sustainability is very loose and uncontrolled, although this is changing via a new program being rolled out by The Australian Wine Research Institute.

Marketing either by supermarkets, wine businesses and, even growers, has blurred the lines between organic, biodynamic and sustainable farming. Ricca Terra’s mission is to be responsible in our farming practices and do it in a sustainable manner.


 No business can contribute to improving the wellbeing of the climate, society and the intangible and tangible assets of an organisation if it is broke! A business needs to be profitable to be in a position to make change.


 When purchased nearly twenty years ago, our farms were run in a conventional manner. The grape varieties grown were all from a French heritage (Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay). Management of water was completely scheduled, meaning a prescribed amount of water, more than the vines needed, was applied every week with no consideration for the soil moisture or climate variations (rain). Soil organic levels were low, and the use of synthetic fertilisers and sprays were common practice. Basically, our vineyard was run like most other vineyards in the region!

Adding to these woes was the value the corporate wineries placed on the grapes we grew. We were seen as a commodity grape grower, price takers and one of a thousand plus growers who produced the same offering. We had no voice, and no one would listen!

The first step in our sustainability journey was to find customers who were going to value our investment, hard work and passion. This was not going to happen if we looked like every other grower in the Riverland. So, in 2003 we started the removal of our French friends and replaced with exotic alternative grape varieties. We basically jumped off a jetty without a life jacket, seeking a wave to carry us to new shores. As we looked back, we saw a jetty full of bystanders (our neighbouring growers). This was our sink-or-swim moment!

Reflecting back at that moment in time, our biggest risk was not to jump and being one of those souls left standing on the jetty just watching! Today we have a vast array of customers who value, encourage and celebrate all that is different about Ricca Terra. This was the first and most important step of our sustainability journey, that being embracing the courage to make change.



Diversityis essential to achieve sustainability. Our first alternative grape variety that we planted was Nero d’Avola. Through trial and error, we quickly discovered that some of these new varieties behaved very differently to varieties like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon! Nero d’Avola (originating from Sicily, a warm and dry region similar to the Riverland) is somewhat a wild child! When irrigated and fertilised under a traditional regime, the vegetative growth of this variety becomes uncontrollable and the berries resemble giant marbles which can be prone to bunch rots if rain is experienced during the harvest period. During the 2011 vintage we learned the hard way, loosing 90% of our Nero crop through bunch rot, when it rained during February. Our learning, irrigate and fertilise less and rein in this wild child. This approach has been significantly beneficial to the environment (less water used), wine quality (intense wines) and our financial performance, through less inputs and great wines. The forty plus grape varieties we grow at Ricca Terra give us the diversity that supports our sustainability goals (less inputs, reducing our environmental footprint and increasing profit). 

Qualityis the foundation that supports sustainability. While our customers applaud Ricca Terra’s approach to changing grape varieties that are of benefit to the environment, it is all superficial and short lived if the wines made from the grapes grown are of inferior quality. To change the consumers appreciation of a region known for bulk wine production, then quality needs to take front and centre! Thinking wine quality rather than tonnes per hectare not only lifts the concentration of flavours and ultimately the taste of wine, it is also beneficial to the environment. Why? A general rule-of-thumb is a grape vine that is balanced, that being enough vegetative growth to support a crop level that is not excessive, will produce grapes that can be made into premium wine. Over-cropped grapes vines, generally caused by excessive amounts of irrigation and fertiliser, will produce diluted and inferior wine. So, growing grapes for quality rather than quantity leads to reduced inputs such as irrigation, which reduces Ricca Terra’s environment footprint and heightens it sustainability status.

The little but important tools.There are a number of small activities that when pooled together have a significant impact on sustainability. These small activities that Ricca Terra implement are;

  • Sulphur is the key agent used to manage fungal diseases, which has low impact on beneficial insects and has no residual carryover into wines.
  • Utilisation of multi-row equipment to reduce fuel use and limit soil compaction.
  • Utilisation of modern/fuel efficient tractors.
  • Annual applications of organically certified composed cow manure to fertilise vines and increase the organic matter in the soil.
  • Soil probes are used to measure the water content of the soil. This allows for the precise application of water to match the vines needs (limiting wastage of water).
  • Recycling of old vineyard post to limit landfill. Posts are bundled and provided to farmers who need them for fence posts.
  • Planting cover crops to supress weeds, provide ground cover and increase soil organics.
  • Utilisation of an in-field grape de-stemmer during harvest. This ensures only grapes are exported from the vineyard. Stalks and other non-grape matter remain in the vineyard, meaning the exportation of valuable organic matter from the vineyard is significantly reduced.
  • Recycled old oak barrels are used for the maturation of wines.
  • No animal products are used in the winemaking process.
  • The used of heavy glass bottles are prohibited which helps reduce food miles.

Ricca Terra is certified with Australian Wine Industry Standard of Sustainable Program (Freshcare).