New Zealand adopted organic and sustainable winegrowing practices more than 40 years ago and now has one of the best certification systems in the world. Nearly 100% of all wineries voluntarily belong to Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) which makes good sense since there is a lot to protect.
Worth $1.86 billion in exports, New Zealand’s wine industry is the seventh largest contributor to the country’s economy having notched up an 8% increase last year. Under restrictions, the 2020 harvest was able to go ahead with some regions reporting their best ever vintage due to New Zealand’s long hot summer.
New Zealand’s commitment to producing award-winning wines that reflect its stunning landscapes and conducive climate has driven the country’s wine industry to become a world leader.
But there’s a lot more to the story than a well-established reputation for quality wines with unique aromas and flavours.
Today consumers want proof that the wine and food they choose has an authentic and sustainable life story. Luckily many passionate, forward-thinking kiwi wine growers have put just as much effort into reducing environmental impact as they have into the quest for success of a quality product.
Additional and significant national developments are due to come into effect by the end of this year with SWNZ aligning its goals with the United Nations Goals for Sustainable Development. There are five key focus areas: water, waste, pest and disease, climate change and people with a plan to revise the vineyard and winery scorecards around these key points.
The focus on sustainability has always been an integral part of the New Zealand wine industry which works on the philosophy that nature’s resources belong to the earth. People are welcome to use these resources as long as they do so respectfully – a custodial responsibility preserved in the Māori concept of kaitiakitangi, meaning guardianship and protection.
Each of the 10 New Zealand wine growing regions has multiple champions of sustainability – many pioneers who continue to play their part in protecting the planet and others who’ve more recently come to the forefront with ground-breaking new initiatives.
Sustainability in play:
Bragato Research Institute
Not only is the recently opened Bragato Research Institute in Marlborough breaking new ground in research but it’s also a model of sustainability in terms of its building and operation.
The research winery which opened at the end of February in time for vintage 2020 was built to a 5-star Greenstar standard and is the first building in the region to meet these strict criteria.
The design aimed to minimise the use of crucial resources like energy, water and raw materials avoiding any adverse environmental impact. Operating sustainably the facility is a showcase for new technologies and innovation as well as trialling equipment, processing and sustainable winery operations.
Rippon Wines, Wanaka - Central Otago
Wanaka winemaker Nick Mills of Rippon, a picturesque vineyard on the shores of Lake Wanaka in the South Island, strongly believes in the long-term benefits of sustainable wine growing and the commitment of four generations has paid off. Rippon has been awarded the Best Vineyard in Australasia and is now ranked 8th in the world - producing organic wines that follow biodynamic principles. This involves rendering the vines and wines as receptive as possible to their soils and surroundings. The Mills are recognised as part of the ‘first five’ pioneers of the modern Central Otago wine industry and plan to continue their dedication to the land for many more generations to come.
Green tea antioxidant
Another initiative believed to be a first for New Zealand is using green tea as an antioxidant in winemaking. The Crawfords of Loveblock Wines in the Awatere Valley area of the South Island are breaking new ground by using the natural tea to replace sulphur dioxide (SO2) in their organic Sauvignon Blanc. It’s all part of Loveblock’s vision to rid their wines of the SO2 preservative that causes a range of allergic reactions in some people.
The winemakers have refined the process after their 2018 attempt resulted in wine ‘pinking’and say they are now on track to success. Their philosophy of low intervention farming is also paying off. By allowing for weeds to thrive around the vineyard there is more competition for nutrients in the soil that feeds the vines. This in turn means the vines produce fewer leaves and allow the grapes to get more sun.
Craggy Range - tree planting programme
New Zealand ‘s Craggy Range Vineyards has embarked on one of the country’s largest biodiversity programmes aiming to plant more than 150,000 native trees and plants in the coming year.
Starting with 100,000 to be planted around the company’s Martinborough vineyards this winter, the company says the massive biodiversity effort is part of their plan to do better by the land, environment and people.. Planting will include tall forests of kahiketea and tōtara and low-lying riparian areas of grasses and shrubs, interspersed with tī kōuka (cabbage trees).
As well as the major planting the company is adding additional water storage and increasing the focus on organic production The biodiversity programme also allows Craggy Range to explore using carbon sequestration to offset its operations.
Multiple award-winning Ata Rangi winery, a pioneer of winemaking in the Martinborough region, is one of only a handful of ISO14001 certified wineries in the world. The 120-acre vineyard is farmed and harvested according to strict principles to reduce the usage of water, fuel and energy. Compost is produced on site from winery waste such as grape stalks, skins, pips, and yeast lees.
Biodiversity is also fostered as a substitute for chemical insecticides and to boost soil structure. Predatory wasps are used for leaf roller caterpillar control and mixed native shelter-belts as well as inter-row wildflower planting, providing habitats for a wide variety of useful insects and microorganisms. The Ata Rangi Bush Block is a part of Project Crimson, a conservation scheme which aims to protect and restore the iconic native New Zealand rata and pohutukawa trees.
Yealands carbon neutral
The rolling hills of the Awatere Valley in Marlborough is also home to New Zealand’s only Toitū carbonzero certified winery, Yealands Estate. The company is committed to ongoing emissions reduction with an ultimate goal to generate enough energy to become self-sufficient. The winery has one of New Zealand’s largest solar panel installations and generates its own renewable energy. Yealands measures all carbon emissions from its tractors in the vineyard to the packaging and shipment of wines and set targets and strategies to reduce these emissions.
Since the launch of its wines in August 2008, Yealands has collected many significant awards for conservation practice. Initiatives include using miniature ‘babydoll’ sheep instead of tractors to manage grass and weeds and the development of more than 20 wetland areas to preserve native plant species and attract native birds.
Pernod Ricard eliminate landfill waste
Sustainable winegrowing has also been actively embraced by Pernod Ricard, one of New Zealand’s largest wine companies producing top-selling labels like Church Road and Brancott Estate.Regulating irrigation and monitoring pests and diseases in all of their vineyards throughout the country has reduced water usage and cut costs of chemicals, labour, and machinery without compromising grape quality.Other initiatives have included the use of biological pest and disease deterrents to replace chemical spraying helping to improve soil structure for better vine quality and yields in the nursery.Brancott vineyards also supports a conservation programme that uses the endangered native New Zealand falcon, the karakea, as a natural pest deterrent while providing the birds with a safe breeding environment.
Clos marguerite - harnessing the sun
At a relatively remote vineyard in the Awatere Valley, Marlborough, Jean-Charles and Marguerite Van Hove of Clos Marguerite are harnessing the sun to fight climate change, with a three-year transition to electric vehicles, irrigation and hot water, all powered by solar.
Starting with small roof of panels the winery is now hardly on the grid, and has plans for an electric tractor and winery refrigeration next. The decision to reduce Clos Marguerite’s footprint was all part of the “real battle of climate change” says Jean-Charles.. “If we miss this one, if we can’t turn the boat, then there are not many other battles that are worth fighting, I think.”
3Sixty2 and CarbonClick
Marlborough winery 3sixty2 has become the first winemaker in New Zealand to offer carbon offsetting to customers at checkout. The winery has partnered with CarbonClick, a kiwi company making it easy for people and businesses to help fight climate change. Each transaction includes a small contribution towards balancing out the carbon emissions of the purchase. CarbonClick funds forest restoration, tree planting, and renewable energy projects in NZ and around the world.