Ngeringa’s bounty draws a complete biodynamic picture

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By David Sly

More than just a farm, Ngeringa has become a significant South Australian brand synonymous with freshness and flavour – across a raft of premium wines, vegetables, fruits and meats that are featured in many of the state’s best and most progressive restaurants.

It proves that Erinn and Janet Klein’s diverse 75-hectare farm at Mt Barker has captured something special through embracing biodynamic farming principals.

However, somewhat surprisingly, Erinn says the farm’s cohesive output hasn’t been the result of a master plan, rather that the Kleins have kept reacting to change and seizing opportunity as it has occurred through the past two decades.

“The original vision was simply to create a biodynamic vineyard, according to the biodynamic farming principals of Rudolf Steiner, and the concept has grown as it went along,” Erinn explains, acknowledging that Ngeringa was previously his parents’ world-renowned Jurlique herb farm.

The Ngeringa farm at Mt Barker in the Adelaide Hills embraces biodynamic farming principals.

This land has been certified biodynamic for more than 20 years, establishing a unique platform for the five-hectare vineyard and straw-bale winery building that was established in 2001.

While the certified biodynamic Ngeringa brand produces a raft of significant wines – from its estate harvest of chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah and viognier grapes, with some sangiovese, nebbiolo, and aglianico – it’s the farm’s diverse food output that has made the Ngeringa biodynamic story so compelling.

“We inherited a significant fruit orchard that was established long before Janet and I got here. We introduced animals to help the land remain in balance – sheep to reduce the weeds that grow among the vines, some chickens, some Southern Highland cows,” Erinn says. “Vegetables came almost as an afterthought. It took a long time and a long of hard work before the farm managed to look complete.”

The current situation has evolved thanks to the introduction of Andy Taylor to the farm about two years ago, to specialise in vegetable production – and this only occurred because an experiment in leasing parts of the farm for share farming didn’t work.

“We found that we couldn’t attract people who were prepared to look after the land as we would ourselves,” says Erinn. “We know that requires a lot of hard work, but we were very disappointed by the outcomes, until Andy came along.”

Animals such as these Southern Highland cows, were introduced to the farm to help the land remain in balance. Photo by Tyrone Ormsby.

His expertise and commitment to growing a diverse mix of vegetables has bolstered Ngeringa’s produce output from two garden beds (which mostly fed the Klein family and a few friends) to now cover two hectares.

“Word about our vegetables kind of leaked out. We’d give a few boxes of surplus food to restaurants that bought our wine, as an added extra, and the chefs went nuts about the flavour and freshness,” Erinn says. “Everyone wanted more, but we just couldn’t provide. Andy’s energy and focus on the gardening has made expansion possible.”

Ngeringa doesn’t sell through wholesalers, because Erinn says that system couldn’t guarantee the absolute freshness of vegetables being promptly delivered. Instead, they pick to order – orders placed by Monday mornings are picked on Monday and Tuesday, and delivered on Wednesday.

Beyond this food being received by six local greengrocers and about 12 restaurants – including award-winners Orana and Africola, Gather @ Coriole and Etica – there are about 25 boxes of mixed vegetables sold to local customers.

“Having some regular families placing orders keeps it real for us, but we are now at the absolute capacity of what we can provide,” says Erinn. “Growing an array of vegetables is seriously hard work that requires an incredible skill set, and Andy is an exceptional gardener.”

Chef Brendan Cato of The Farmed Table, left, with Erinn Klein at a Ngeringa vintage lunch prepared with produce fresh from the farm.

The patience of chefs and customers to only receive what food is available rather than pressure Ngeringa for constant supply has been a game-changer – not only with seasonal vegetable supplies, but also with sporadic meat. Ngeringa runs about 110 ewes and lambs a year, which means that chefs can only be offered fresh lamb every six weeks or so as a special offer. They don’t complain.

“We’re not viewed as unreliable because we don’t have everything available all the time,” says Erinn. “Adelaide has a whole group of smart chefs who respect this. They know that food from our farm has guaranteed freshness and incredible flavour.”

The best advertisement of what the farm provides are sporadic weekend feasts held at the winery cellar door, either as special events for regular customers or as part of festivals, recently using freelance chef Shannon Fleming (formerly at Orana Restaurant) to use only Ngeringa produce.

“We can provide everything that the chefs use, except dairy, and it shows that what we have here is very special,” says Erinn. “Our biggest challenge is how to figure out how we could do more without making it impossible for ourselves to manage.

“At Ngeringa, everything is still a work in progress – perhaps it always will be – but what we’re doing is working well.”

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