Exploring wine-making and sustainability

Yealands winery in Marlborough.

Yealands winery in Marlborough. - Credit: Archant

Sustainability has moved from simply being an interesting theme to the realiaation that the impact of practices such as single use plastics and non-renewable energy resources is a serious threat to us all.

It hasn't escaped the world of wine and winemakers are very aware of the impact they can have on the environment. As a result, there are well-established programmes of sustainable vine growing and wine making throughout the world.

Sustainability in wine refers to a range of practices that are ecologically sound, economically viable and socially responsible. Such producers may choose to use organic practices, but they also focus on energy and water conservation, and the use of renewable resources. Currently, there is no legal definition for sustainable wine though there are bodies which certify sustainability according to internationally agreed guidelines.

Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand is widely recognised as a world-leading sustainability programme and was one of the first to be established in the international wine industry. They want to ensure that continuous improvement of economic, environmental and social outcomes, locally and globally.

In New Zealand sustainability means delivering excellent wine to consumers while helping the natural environment, local businesses and communities involved to thrive. The programme was introduced commercially in 1997 and adopted by grape growers across the country's winegrowing regions.

New Zealand Winegrowers' Sustainability Policy requires all wine to be made from 100 per cent certified grapes in fully-certified winemaking facilities since 2002. Sustainable certification must be awarded through an independently audited programme - either Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand or a recognised organic or biodynamic certifications.

Yealands Winery in Marlborough (pictured) is a great example and they state: "When we opened our winery doors on August 8 2008 our vision was to become one of the world's most sustainable wine producers in partnership with nature. Today this philosophy holds true and forms the basis of our approach to winemaking." They are innovative and keep trialing new initiatives with solar panels that generate enough power for 86 households, burning vine prunings to heat water in special burners, they also have wind turbines on their wineries in the Awatere Valley to use the power of the sea breezes.

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Yealands have ongoing projects including developing wetlands to promote biodiversity with native plant species that attractive many bird species, making our own special compost and using natural pest control measures in our vineyard. They've also introduced pygmy sheep into the vineyards to graze in the vineyards - they're too small to reach the fruit!

Californian winegrowers are aware of the need for socially responsible approaches to their businesses and are committed to standards of sustainability in all areas production as shown by the array of certifications available and valued. These bodies include the California Winegrowing Alliance, Sustainability in Practice, Low input viticulture and Enology, Napa Green and Salmon safe. Many wineries aim for evidence of their good practices and for example Kendall Jackson Winery has ben certified since 2010 and use the logos on their labels.

In Italy producers such as Claudio Manera at Il Cascinone are leading proponents of sustainable wine making and have gained SQNPI certification that shows they have reached certain standards of social and eco-compatible winemaking. They aim to be 100 per cent sustainable from vineyard to bottle, using organic farming methods when possible, plus energy and water recycling whilst still generating an income for all their workers.

Wineries in the UK are also focusing on sustainable agriculture practices in the vineyards and wineries and trying to reduce their carbon footprint which in terms of the distance travelled to their customers is very short compared to that of New World wines from distant wineries in Australia!

This is a general overview to show that the world of wine production is taking sustainability to heart and taking action to be socially and environmentally responsible. There is a worldwide stream of consciousness that will strengthen as more ways of achieving greater sustainability are developed and used. But there is still much more to be done, and it is very much work in progress.