Industry pioneer’s evolving sustainability model earns accolades.
Peter Yealands says a lot of people might think he is "slightly odd" however with 160 staff, the legacy of being one of the top six wine producers in New Zealand and a shelf-full of awards for his wine and sustainability practices he is, unsurprisingly, not too concerned.
Yealands Family Wines won the supreme award at the NZI National Sustainable Business Network Awards this week, as well as winning the restorative impact award earlier in the evening.
Yealands has been working on greener and faster ways of mowing in between the vines with animals that couldn't reach the vines. Mowing costs upwards of a million dollars annually. He tried guinea pigs first.
"It was funny, you could go out and call them and you felt like you were the pied piper. You'd have 500 guinea pigs all running at you from all over the vineyard."
This experiment, although successful, came to an end after Yealands said the majority of New Zealand's hawk population started hanging around the vineyard. After this, Yealands imported babydoll sheep - a small breed and one of the rarest in the world.
The only breeder of babydoll sheep in New Zealand, Yealands also plays classical music around the vineyard to his vines. He says the combination sounds a bit odd but it works.
"I don't care if someone comes and visits and goes away thinking, 'That Yealands is a bit wacky', as long as they remember me. I'm pretty proud of what we've done."
Yealands wine is now sold on several major airlines and Yealands said the company was not going to be complacent.
An industry pioneer, Yealands was originally growing grapes and selling them on the spot market at a premium in 1990s. Although it meant taking a risk by having no set contracts with wineries, the higher price and market view gave Yealands foresight into supply and demand trends. It was in the early 2000s that he realised the point was coming where supply would meet and possibly exceed demand for grapes.
"I had to consider my investment and the team that I had, and I felt that the best way to secure that was to build a winery," Yealands said.
"I was confident but in reality I didn't have a lot of choice. If I hadn't built my winery, my grapes would have rotted on the vines because no one would have wanted them. And I was just lucky that I was able to foresee that and be able to prepare myself to manage the situation."
On August 8, 2008 - "all the Chinese lucky numbers" - the winery was officially opened. He said at the time that he got up and delivered a speech about the company's goals for the coming few years, goals that even he admits were optimistic at the time.
"I got up there, helped by a few drinks, and said our goal was to become one of the top handful of wine producers in the next five years, to produce the world's best sauvignon blanc and to get global recognition for being a leader in sustainability and innovation," Yealands said. "They probably all thought I was talking s**t but it was a good opening."
Within the five years Yealands had achieved those goals, becoming one of the fastest-growing wineries in New Zealand and the sixth-largest wine producer in the country.
Over the years the winery has bought eight neighbouring properties and the vineyard now has more than 4,000km of vine rows.