For the past 13 years New Zealand winemakers have been on a mission to go green. Many have systematically reduced their use of pesticides and herbicides and some are now questioning the use of preservatives.
Green wine is official. Cosmoculture has yet to make it to New Zealand but no doubt this latest buzz word and its “acupuncture for the Earth” philosophy will arrive soon. In the meantime biodynamics is the new organics, and sustainable winemaking has become mainstream.
Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand was established in 1995 by volunteer grape growers. Since 1997 it has been adopted by grape growers nationwide. Nearly 1000 vineyards and 100 wineries subscribe to Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand – that’s 80 per cent of New Zealand’s wine-producing land and more than 75 per cent of its wine production.
Going green may be mainstream but it is also fraught with challenges for New Zealand winemakers. The country’s islands are unprotected by any nearby land mass and they are prone to rainfall and humidity, which has traditionally been mitigated on grapevines by herbicides and pesticides.
By 2012 any New Zealand winery or vineyard that is not aligned with an independently audited organic, biodynamic or sustainable growing program will be unable to cash in on marketing initiatives run by New Zealand Winegrowers. As Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, says, nobody can force grape growers or winemakers to behave in an environmentally friendly manner, but the industry’s official body can clamp down on who gets to ride on its marketing coat-tails.
This industry body once promoted the highly criticised slogan, “New Zealand wine, the riches of a clean, green land.” Ironically, it’s a claim that more wineries than ever are now trying to live up to.
The largest wine company in the country and a founding member of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, Pernod Ricard New Zealand has planted more than 15,000 native trees in its vineyards in Marlborough, another 6000 in North Canterbury, and complementary crops between some of its vineyard rows to moderate the fertility of the soil, attract beneficial insects and reduce fungicide use. “For every one of the things we’ve done – reduce packaging weight, reduce water usage in our wineries, develop a heritage trail walk, reduce pesticides and herbicides – there are so many more things to do. We’re only scraping the surface,” says Fabian Partigliani, chief executive.
The country’s largest new winery, Yealands Estate, has broken ground in green winemaking, gaining “world leadership” accreditation under the Green Star NZ industrial building rating system. The new Marlborough winery grazes miniature sheep between vine rows. Stormwater is collected and recycled for vine irrigation. Heat recovery technology is used inside the winery. Solar panels generate the winery’s hot water requirements and wind turbines are being built. Owner Peter Yealands may one day sell power generated by the winery to the country’s national grid.
The first winery to custom build a recycling waste plant is Amisfield Wine Company in Lowburn, Otago. All waste is channelled through aquatic plants that grow in a new wetland area populated by native birds, which act as a bio-indicator of the health of the water fed into the pond.
All Villa Maria vineyards are accredited or being accredited by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand. Villa Maria recycles its waste grape marc as stock food and a compost nutrient. Its heat recovery system takes waste heat from the winery’s refrigeration plant and stores it for use in winemaking to warm the grape juice before and during fermentation and before bottling. Natural rather than electric lighting is used where possible. The sales team has hybrid vehicles. Stormwater from the Auckland winery is filtered so that only clean water enters the lake on the premises before it goes to Manukau Harbour.
Spy Valley Wines in Marlborough has reduced its landfill waste by 60 per cent. All of its vineyards are sustainably accredited and it has imported a glass crusher, which it uses to crush glass that is then used as a reflective mulch under some of its vines.
It’s not easy being green, but by 2012 it will be a lot harder for wineries and vineyards that are not, as they will be unable to take advantage of wine industry marketing initiatives. In a country where nearly half the wine made is shipped offshore, that could make or break a winery.