New Zealand Pillars of Sustainability: Part I
Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand demonstrates the country’s outstanding commitment to securing a socially responsible, economically viable and environmentally sound future. I enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to travel to New Zealand this past month, visiting each of the country’s wine regions, meeting wine producers and learning more about their comprehensive sustainability efforts and successes. They have come very close to their goal of 100% sustainability throughout the industry, including vineyards and wineries.
The M’ori, the land’s original settlers, have a word for these ‘eternally sustainable’ practices: Toit’. With just five letters, the M’ori define an entire philosophy for not just farming, but also for living.
The world of wine, as we know and enjoy it, is similarly much more than just farming, and it demands a multi-faceted approach in order to be sustainable, too. This is a formidable task! However, SWNZ makes this challenge feasible in outlining their Seven Pillars of Sustainability: biodiversity; soil, water and air; energy; chemicals; byproducts; people; and business practices.
In this post, we will explore the first three pillars: biodiversity; soil, water and air; and energy.
Due to millennia of geographic isolation, New Zealand is one of the world’s most unique natural settings and home for troves of endemic plant, animal and insect species. Protecting this biodiversity while using the land for winegrowing and production is a central tenant of SWNZ’s efforts and the first of seven pillars.
There are many ways to promote biodiversity; wineries all throughout New Zealand are creating wildlife
Mussel shells used to make compost for the vineyards.
corridors and restoring native habitats. Brancott Estate developed a special line of wine, a portion of the sales of which go to the Marlborough Falcon Conservation Trust, an organization committed to the regeneration of the majestic and prized natives species. Mount Difficulty Winery in Central Otago exemplifies efforts undertaken by many wineries in New Zealand, who plant seedlings of native trees and flaxes to increase indigenous wildlife population and to regenerate diverse flora and fauna in areas where these native species once thrived.
Enhancing biodiversity, beyond the good in itself, reduces costs of production by controlling pests, diseases, weeds and improving soil quality; it’s a win-win-win!
Soil, Water and Air
The notion of terroir educates us on the importance of soil to winegrowing as a process and to wine as a product. This special relationship makes soil management and conservation crucial to sustainable winemaking. Specific protective actions include mulching to increase organic matters and using sheep to mow grasses and control weeds.
New Zealand is graced with many natural freshwater supplies, but there are arid regions and seasonal rainfall, thus reducing water use minimizes environmental impact, saves energy and improves economic efficiency. Responsible disposal of waste protects this essential resource’s purity and is also an essential component of SWNZ.
Keeping New Zealand’s air clean requires more than reducing GHG emissions from vehicles and industrial processes, but also monitoring spray drift when applying chemicals and understanding the complex ways in which chemical processes interact on-site at wineries.
Being efficient in energy use is the third pillar of SWNZ. Energy-savvy building design, including maximizing natural light and ensuring proper insulation, installation of low-power and energy-efficient appliances and maximizing heat transfer and cooling during fermentation all contribute to this success. For example Yealands Family Wine Estate in Marlborough has installed energy efficient equipment, heat recovery technology, advanced refrigeration technology, temperature and energy monitors. The winery currently utilizes solar and wind power and baling of vine prunings as energy source for the winery.
In my next post, we will investigate how the remaining four pillars (chemicals, byproducts, people and business practices) are critical to Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand’s mission and support the philosophy of Toit’.