Crossing paths with a cute kunekune piglet isn't something you'd expect on a cellar door visit. Or spying a flock of miniature sheep wandering among the vines.
However, at Marlborough's Yealands Wines, the pigs dine on food waste, and the Babydoll sheep are vineyard gardeners, snacking on grass and weeds to reduce tractor passes through the vines.
They're all part of the environmental package at this carbon-zero winery, which along with a small handful of others in Aotearoa offers visitors the opportunity to sample sustainable wine made by a carbon-neutral company.
Wine may not have as high greenhouse gas emissions as industries such as dairy, sheep and beef farming. However, fertilisers and fuel in the vineyard, and electricity in the winery, to packing materials and freight, all carry a carbon cost.
Assisted by the country's national wine body, New Zealand Winegrowers, it's something the whole industry is looking to reduce. However, some wineries have hit carbon zero decades ahead of the countrywide deadline of 2050.
"New Zealand could lead the world when it comes to environmentally sustainable wine industry practices.
We are nimble, responsive and innovative and have the ability to make significant changes for the better," says Sion Barnsley, of Lawson's Dry Hills, another Marlborough winery that, after gaining ISO14001 certification for its Environmental Management, went the whole hog and achieved carbon-zero status last year.
"For us as a winery, there's a sense of pride and achievement that's shared throughout the team," he adds. "That's because it's not just the big stuff like installing 200 solar panels and buying a more environmentally friendly tractor, but composting, planting natives in our vineyards and recycling – things we can all contribute to that make a difference."
At Lawson's cosy cellar door, whose wooden floors and stone gabion counter give the space an appropriately natural feel, you can try wines such as the Inviniti range.
Designed to showcase the winery's sustainable credentials, like Lawson's entire production, it uses New Zealand-made lightweight bottles with a minimum of 60 per cent recycled content and sports labels made of paper from certified, sustainably managed forests. As a nice touch, every visitor leaves with a packet of wildflower seeds designed by Lawson's to further sow its sustainability story.
Carbon-zero accreditation requires companies to measure and reduce their total carbon emissions. This is independently audited, then any remaining emissions offset, often through purchasing carbon credits.
However, at The Landing in the Bay of Islands, Toitū
carbon-zero certification was achieved not by buying credits, but through the bushland on the 400haproperty.
Over the past 20 years, The Landing has planted 1.2 million native trees on its land, which also houses luxury accommodation, a vineyard and boutique winery. These absorb more carbon annually than that produced by all the businesses operating there.
"Sustainability is one of our wider company values," says Peter Jones, of The Landing, which is owned by Cooper and Company that's behind Auckland's Britomart. "For The Landing Wines, we wanted to understand what our current carbon footprint was so we had a baseline to improve from and establish a set of goals and initiatives that the team could all work towards knowing they would make a measurable difference to the environment."
Both The Landing's coastal views and environmental achievements are breathtaking. Guests at the property's four architecturally designed residences - which include the Vineyard Villa nestled among the vines - can absorb these through the wine tasting and vineyard tour included in the stay.
The Landing also offers a special Weekend with the Winemakers, three days of fine food and vinous immersion with The Landings' Ben Byrne and consultant winemaker Warren Gibson. This includes a tasting masterclass, barrel-tastings and the chance to blend a wine to take home.
Visitors not staying at The Landing can also sample the wines and philosophy by appointment through various wine experiences. Hosted at the cellar door overlooking the vineyard and bush, these range from a wine tasting and cheese board to various wine tasting and lunch packages, one that includes transport to The Landing by boat and a vineyard tour.
Combatting climate change is a major driver at Yealands. It was the country's first winery to be carbon zero from inception, and is a founding member of International Wineries for Climate Action.
"Global warming and the impacts of climate change continue to be the most pressing global issue," explains Michael Wentworth, Yealands' dedicated general manager for sustainability. "Action is required now and we are committed to leading that change, not only through our own actions but by influencing others to do the same."
Yealands has reduced its emissions by 34 per cent since 2013, and has set itself ambitious targets to halve them by 2030 and become carbon positive by 2050.
As well as learning more about how it's achieving this, and tasting the company's wines at its Awatere Valley cellar door, visitors are encouraged to head out into its 1000ha Seaview Vineyard to encounter some of its initiatives first hand.
On the picturesque 8km White Road self-drive tour, visitors not only take in spectacular views out over Cook Strait but also come across a number of sustainability projects. These range from native plantings, wildflowers, and waterway and wetland restoration, to renewable solar and wind energy generation.
Wildflowers growing between Yealands' rows of vines aren't there just to look pretty, they've helped the company reduce its diesel use, by 15 per cent in 2019. Around 25 per cent of the winery's total energy requirements are now generated onsite.
It's achieved through one of the largest solar panel installations in New Zealand, glinting on the winery's roof, and wind turbines taking advantage of seas breezes. The bales of vine prunings that you might spot around the property are burned to create further power.
Visitors can also take a stroll through Yealands' "Butterfly Gully"; a sheltered place where swan plants attract monarch butterflies, fostering biodiversity. Then of course there's the sheep and piglets.
Such surprising discoveries are all in a day's travel when exploring the sources of Aotearoa's most sustainable bottles of wine.
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