Wine: Enthusiasts for extreme green

By Yvonne Lorkin


When the first European settlers arrived in New Zealand, there was nothing else for it: build a house, burn the bush, grow grass, sort yourself out a farm or die trying.

This "growth at all costs" mentality meant we were soon in danger of stretching our little piece of the Pacific to unsustainable levels.

Our fisheries, forestry and farming were all as bad as each other and grapegrowers were no exception. Increase production by killing the weeds and bugs with chemical sprays and she'll be right. Electricity's cheap, use as much water as you want, chuck out all your waste, where's the harm?

Thankfully, over recent decades an environmental paradigm shift has taken place within our wine industry and now consumers can choose from a smorgasbord of sustainability champions. At this year's Air New Zealand Wine Awards, a record 92 per cent of entries were sustainably accredited, compared with 75 per cent in 2011.

Under the NZ Winegrowers' sustainability policy, wine must be made from 100 per cent certified grapes in fully certified winemaking facilities and certification must be through an independently audited programme - either Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand or one of the recognised organic or biodynamic certifications.

O FOR ORGANIC


"In the 1890s William Murdoch served as a guardsman in the legendary Coldstream regiment at Buckingham Palace, where he strived for integrity, harmony and authenticity in all aspects of life," says Brett Murdoch, chief executive of certified organic William Murdoch wines in Hawke's Bay's famous Gimblett Gravels district. "I planted our vineyards in William's honour."

The philosophy is simple: no insecticides, no herbicides, no pesticides, no systemic chemicals and no non-organic chemicals. All the wines are fermented with wild, indigenous yeasts, which occur naturally in the vineyard and in the winery. This means the ferments have not been introduced from outside the vineyard - such as man-made packaged yeast - but occur within the property. The team at William Murdoch likes to refer to its vineyard and winery methods as being not only "organic" but also "natural", meaning the wines are created with the minimal interference. They don't have a cellar door, but for information on where to buy visit www.murdochwines.co.nz

IT'S BIODYNAMIC, BABY


Biodynamics is essentially an extension of organics that takes a wider, holistic approach to land use. The land is viewed as a whole living ecosystem influenced by the Earth's natural rhythms that are in turn influenced by the moon and the sun.

Having been organically run since its inception in 1991, the team at Richmond Plains in Nelson felt it was in a prime position to convert its vineyards into biodynamics and subsequently produced the first sauvignon blanc and pinot noir to be fully certified by both BioGro and Demeter in New Zealand.

Compost and horn manure - often referred to as Preparation 500 - are spread in the Richmond Plains vineyard during the descending moon whose effects enhance root growth and soil activity. Foliar sprays such as compost teas and horn silica - otherwise known as Preparation 501 - are applied during the ascending moon which, says the Richmond Plains website, increases vitality and vigour of the vine shoots, fruit and leaves. www.richmondplains.co.nz

CARBON ZERO HERO


You'd be forgiven for thinking the blood flowing through the veins of Yealands Estate owner Peter Yealands, pictured, is more a healthy shade of green than red.

"Just tell me what we're not doing," he says when asked to list their green initiatives - a list that is indeed exhaustive. There's wetlands restoration, the use of babydoll-breed sheep to manicure the vineyards and native falcons to scare off hungry birds during the ripening season.

There's energy generation and preservation through solar panels, wind turbines and the use of vine-pruning bales for heat and they use lightweight environmentally friendly plastic bottles that are 89 per cent lighter, generate 54 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions and use 19 per cent less energy to produce than traditional 750ml glass bottles.

The Awatere Valley-based wine company received carboNZeroCertTM certification in April 2009 and in doing so became the largest winery in New Zealand to achieve this status.

This means that the company has measured and offset all its greenhouse gas emissions since inception. The winery and vineyard is also accredited under Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand and its advanced green technologies led to it becoming the only winery to be shortlisted in the International Green Awards.

Entrants are evaluated on sustainability, vision, innovation and advocacy against eight sustainability indicators ranging from energy and carbon to supply chain and resources for the whole company. The International Green Awards programme represents the most sustainable organisations in the world and singles out companies that have embedded sustainability throughout their organisational processes.

WE'VE GOT YOU SUSSED


Before 2005, Gladstone Vineyard in the Wairarapa was very much in the conventional camp when it came to growing its grapes.

"Chemicals had long been an accepted part of grape-growing and we relied on them heavily," says owner and winemaker Christine Kernohan on the NZ Winegrowers website. "It wasn't until we attended a seminar challenging this approach that we realised it was no longer suitable for us as a serious wine producer."

That led to an overhaul of vineyard management practices and embracing alternative methods for producing wine in more environmentally responsible ways.

"We began to look at treating the causes of disease in our vines rather than simply chemically treating the symptoms," she says.

One of the first things they did was to re-sow the ground beneath the vines with a soil-building seed mix of chicory, lucerne and clover to build up soil biology. Then they began using organic liquid biological cultures to inject extra nutrition. After 20 years of chemical intervention, eliminating the usual methods of chemical pest, disease and weed control meant the first couple of years weren't without their scary moments. "Stressful" is the word Kernohan uses. "We could only wait and hope for positive results".

These days life at the certified-sustainable Gladstone Vineyard is cleaner, greener and the wines keep getting better.

- Hamilton News

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