Peter Yealands’ ethos is simple. “The best way of getting the best out of your grapes is to look after the land they live on, and we put a lot of effort into that,” he says. And that he does. In 2016 Yealands was the first New Zealander to win the Lifetime Achievement Award at The Drinks Business Green Awards. This well-deserved recognition comes from years of Yealands evolving innovations and sustainability practices that has made Yealands Family Wines in the Awatere Valley the “leanest and greenest” worldwide. Yealands’ latest coup is completing the largest solar panel initiative in the country at his Seaview Estate in Marlborough.
As he puts it, Yealands’ “greening” took place in the early 1990s at his deer farm out in the “real wop wops” in Kaiuma Bay. He says, “It was there I learnt to run with nature. Instead of cutting things down, I started planting them.” In 1998, he started setting up his first vineyard, launching his first wines in 2008. Yealands’ own winery was the first one he’d set foot in, and he believes this gave him an advantage. Without a predetermined mindset, he “could listen to the experts and pick out the best”. Yealands Family Wines was the first winery to be certified carboNZerocertTM from the start. As green as it is, fully accredited and awarded, Yealands says it’s essential to “keep thinking of innovations and ways to be sustainable. When you think you’ve got them all, keep working on it.” Everyone in the company gets involved but, Yealands says, “I’m probably the wackiest and I probably have too many ideas. Some get parked, some get laughed at and some cross the line. I wake up every morning with a new brand, a new concept, a new crazy … I can’t help it.”
Yealands’ initial installation of solar panels in 2012 to 2013 was the largest in New Zealand. Yealands requested a structure to fit into the landscape, so the architect used the rolling hills for inspiration. Other companies soon surpassed the estate with their own systems, but in 2016 Yealands reclaimed his mantle in collaboration with the trail-blazing solar company PowerSmart, which has installed more than 60,000 panels in 10 countries since it was founded in 2007.
PowerSmart has been involved in many projects in the Pacific Islands, but nothing of this scale had been done in New Zealand. Rogier Simons from PowerSmart worked at Seaview Estate and says the project proves these types of installations are viable here. PowerSmart CEO Michael Bassett-Smith says, “When Yealands approached us for help to improve its already energy-efficient vineyard, we were keen to assist. We’re excited to have installed the largest solar PV system in NZ yet again.”
The winery entered into the PowerSmart Gold agreement, in which PowerSmart owns the physical solar electricity system, taking care of monitoring and maintenance, and Yealands buys back the solar power. And what a system: a six-person team took about 4 weeks to complete it. An additional 918 PV (photovoltaic) panels were installed, which brought the total amount of PV panels up to 1314 on the roof, set up on the northern side to capture maximum solar energy. The panel can generate approximately 411.12 kW of solar power at its peak, equivalent to powering 86 homes, per annum.
Winemaking is an energy-intensive process, and the system will generate 30 per cent of the vineyard’s energy requirements, powering everything from pumps to tank coolers to computers. It will offset 82 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, further cutting the winery’s emissions footprint. Yealands says, “By increasing the size of our solar array we will decrease our reliance on the national grid.” The ultimate goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible. For the first year, 505,000kWH of solar power is forecast, and energy production to date has exceeded initial estimations.
Each panel has a 25-year production warranty, but Simons says, “In Germany, they are surpassing this already.” The panels are very low maintenance – all they need is an annual wash with non-acidic water. As Simons says, “They are barely moving parts in completely controlled environments.”
Under the roof, 13 inverters in the container system work to convert sunlight into usable energy. Simons says the system, “is smart enough to know at night when it’s not producing this energy, it can kick back off the grid”. It will always dedicate itself to the solar power first, before the grid, so in this way no energy is ever lost. Although many may not have attempted to build a vineyard on such a rolling landscape, Yealands has always liked a challenge, and the stunning coastal estate has been beautifully created in partnership with the land. The testing environment, with its constant wind, helps produce the thick skins on the small berries, thus a strong rich flavour in the wines.
Taking the popular White Road Tour through Seaview Estate, it’s clear to see that every aspect of the winery’s operations has been considered for its environmental impact – and the environment’s impact on the winery. In the recent magnitude 7.8 earthquake centred in Kaikoura, some wine loss and damage was sustained but all staff were safe and full operations recommenced within days.
Peter Yealands’ unique thinking is apparent from the smallest to the largest details, including the following initiatives:
1. Vine prunings are baled, then burned to produce energy.
2. Babydoll sheep are used to keep the grass short, cutting down on tractor use, as well as providing fertiliser.
3. Music is played to the vines and to the chickens, who produce bigger eggs as a result.
4. More than 200,000 native plants and flaxes have been planted.
5. “Pete’s Brew” is a speciality compost created from mussel shells, limestone and other organic materials to feed the land.