The green grapes of New Zealand 12 Jul 2012
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Villa Maria Estate has dominated the New Zealand wine awards for three decades, but their success at the Ministry for the Environment’s 2012 Green Ribbon Awards is the jewel in the crown.
The family-owned wine business won the Large Business Leadership category for their on-going commitment to environmental best practice, including reducing the use of chemical sprays, moving to organic growing and increasing energy efficiency. They went on to win the Supreme Green Ribbon Award for their outstanding contribution to protecting the environment.
The highly regarded Green Ribbon Awards recognise the work of businesses and communities to protect and enhance the environment. Villa Maria’s achievement reflects well on the New Zealand wine industry, which has been leading the world in sustainable practices.
The Green Ribbon accolades add to Villa Maria’s success at wine competitions including winning Gold at the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards for its Cellar Selection Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 and again at the 2012 International Wine Challenge for its Reserve Marlborough Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2011.
Villa Maria was a founding member of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) back in 1995. SWNZ is a voluntary industry-wide auditing programme that focuses on producing high-quality grapes and wines while minimising the impact on the environment. SWNZ provides a framework for vineyards and wineries to measure what they’re doing and how they could improve.
“We look at the records of what the vineyard or winery is doing during the year, especially with spraying, water use and how waste is managed,” says SWNZ national co-ordinator Sally van der Zijpp.
“The message is getting across that sustainability is good for business as well as the environment. For instance if you’re cross-checking your irrigation system you’re less likely to over-water and that means a better quality crop. Also pumping water is an expense so if you’re measuring and using less, that saves money.”
The SWNZ programme now covers 96 per cent of the vineyards in New Zealand. It is one of several internationally recognised certification programmes, including carboNZero, BioGro and AsureQuality, used by the New Zealand wine industry to improve and promote sustainability.
Yealands Estate in Marlborough became the largest winery in New Zealand to receive carboNZero certification, which measures everything from tractor fuel to wine shipments in order to work out how to reduce their carbon emissions.
The company strives for sustainability across its operation and won a 2012 Green Ribbon Award for its green technology and innovation. Starting in the vines, Yealands grazes Babydoll miniature sheep between the rows to keep down the grass. The sheep are too small to damage the vines and reduce the cost of mowing, fuel and diesel emissions.
In the winery, fermentation and storage tanks are completely enclosed within an insulated building and water is collected off the roof for irrigation. The grape marc (what is left after the grapes have been pressed) is turned into compost for the vines.
Solar panels heat the water while wind turbines and vine prunings generate power. The company aims eventually to be self-sufficient in electricity. “We are continually working towards our goal to become a global leader in sustainable wine production,” says owner and founder Peter Yealands.
The Green Ribbon award was followed a few weeks later by Yealands’ 2011 Single Block Sauvignon Blanc being named the best Sauvignon Blanc at the International Wine Challenge in London. The link between sustainable production and quality wine is important for New Zealand producers and reassuring for their customers.
Sustainability is also about being a profitable business, says Lindsay Parkinson, general manager of Wairau River Wines, which has signed up to the carboNZero and SWNZ programmes.
“We are doing these things, but we don’t pretend to be great green crusaders,” says Lindsay. “For us sustainability is also about the whole business being profitable, providing sustainable employment and being part of the local community.”
It is a sentiment echoed at Ata Rangi in Martinborough. Owner Clive Paton not only makes award-winning wines (Ata Rangi has won the trophy for best Pinot Noir at the International Wine and Spirit Competition three times) but he also received a 2012 Queen’s Birthday honour for services to conservation.
Biodiversity is central to Ata Rangi’s sustainable winegrowing, with mixed native shelter-belts and inter-row wildflowers planted to encourage insects and native birds. After running out of room on the vineyard Clive bought a gorse-covered block and planted thousands of native trees, including the endangered rata. This red-flowered plant is the inspiration for Crimson, Ata Rangi’s Pinot Noir made from younger vines. Sales from Crimson go back into a rata restoration project.
Clive and his team have planted 10,000 eucalyptus trees to supply durable untreated vineyard posts to replace arsenic-treated pine posts. This project is part of the NZ Drylands Forest Initiative and the eucalypts also control erosion, mitigate carbon emissions and can be used for biofuel.
These New Zealand wine growers, for all their diversity, continue to embody the principles of sustainability: producing great wine while looking after the environment for future generations.
(New Zealand Trade & Enterprise)
Photo - Villa Maria Estate: Emma Jane Hogbin - Flickr CC
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