Turning New Zealand's grapes green

Nearly all of New Zealand's vineyards meet some kind of voluntary sustainability standard - but some go much further than others. Photo / Getty Images
Nearly all of New Zealand's vineyards meet some kind of voluntary sustainability standard - but some go much further than others. Photo / Getty Images

Composting, ditching sulphur dioxide and planting a special kind of mustard to fix soil problems are among tricks used by boutique sustainable wine producers in New Zealand.

Over 94 per cent of the country's producing vineyard land is certified by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ), a voluntary set of industry standards that covers biodiversity, soil quality, air quality, energy-efficiency and wastewater management. Another seven per cent has organic certification, expected to increase to 20 per cent by 2020.

Some companies, though, are making much more of an effort than others. While Marlborough's Yealands Estate, with its prunings-to-power boilers, wind turbines and weed-trimming sheep, might be the first example to come to mind, smaller producers are also helping lead the way.

What kind of action backs up the branding? Lance Redgwell is the current custodian of Cambridge Road, one of Martinborough's oldest vineyards, planted in 1986.

Under his watch, the vineyard uses organic and biodynamic farming techniques. Working with "absolute respect for our water, soil and air" cuts down on fertiliser needs, he says.

Nutrients are returned to the soil by composting and using mineral supplements such as limestone and kelp, most of which are sourced locally. "We dry farm the vineyard also, saving significant water resources," Redgewell says.

Collaboration Wines, a boutique producer of premium wines from Hawke's Bay, and Staete Landt Wines, in Marlborough, are both certified with SWNZ.

Julianne Brogen, the director at Collaboration Wines, says the winery takes a natural approach to winemaking, with minimal chemical and physical manipulation. "A strong understanding of winemaking chemistry means the ability to step back and guide the wines," she says - without needing to pump them full of sulphur dioxide and other additions.

The company uses plain craft cardboard and paper packaging with hand-written details, which helps avoid waste from vintage to vintage.

Staete Landt's Ruud Maasdam samples the pinot noir harvest. Photo / Supplied
Staete Landt's Ruud Maasdam samples the pinot noir harvest. Photo / Supplied

Staete Landt co-owner Ruud Maasdam points to his company's irrigation design. Instead of just dumping water, the 19-hectare vineyard is split into 17 irrigation zones - with just the right amount and method of irrigation for each type of soil.

As well as monitoring the system by sight, the company has invested in three Aquaflex sensors to bring in hour-to-hour data on soil moisture and temperature.

"Cover crops" help keep the soil healthy without using chemicals. If unwanted fungi and bacteria develop in a soil patch, Maasdam says, one option is to plant a type of mustard high in a naturally-occuring compound that can act as a biocide.

"Once the mustard has flowered, it's mulched, releasing the biocide, and then turned back into the soil eradicating the bad fungi and bacteria."

Just as someone with a stomach upset might follow antibiotics with probiotics, the team will then plant a mix of green crops to encourage good fungi and bacteria, return important minerals and foster good soil structure.

It's time-consuming and can be more expensive, Maasdam admits. "But we believe it is the most sustainable approach." And, he adds, quite possibly the most effective.

To learn more about sustainable winegrowing and taste the best boutique wine the country has to offer, grab a ticket to the second NZ Boutique Wine Festival on June 15 in Auckland. http://boutiquewine.co.nz/

A list of participating vineyards can be found on the festival's website. Element is the media partner for a special sustainable section, featuring:

Dancing Water
The Darling Wines
8 Ranges
Staete Landt Wines
Cambridge Road
Foxes Island
Lamont Wines
Paulownia Estate
Collaboration Wines

For a preview, check out the video below - wine journalist Timothy Giles tastes Cambridge Road's 2012 and 2013 Papillon Blancs:

This article is an Element Advertising Promotion.

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