Sustainability programme extends from soil to glass

July 2007
Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) is an industry initiated programme, managed by New Zealand Winegrowers.

The aim is to ensure the longevity of the industry through the promotion of environmental and economically sustainable grape and wine production throughout New Zealand.

New Zealand Winegrowers has set a goal for all industry members to be actively participating in an independently audited sustainability programme by 2012. CEO Philip Gregan believes sustainability will be the passport to trade.

Current membership of SWNZ is 457 vineyards representing 13,500 hectares (60-65% of the total producing area) and 57 winery sites (making up to 70% of New Zealand wine).

The SWNZ vineyard programme was initiated by grapegrowers in August 1995, as an industry initiative directed through New Zealand Winegrowers.

Wineries came on board in 2004, after a two-year pilot programme in Hawkes Bay and Marlborough.

The SWNZ programme provides a framework for constant improvement of viticultural and winemaking practices to protect the environment while efficiently and economically producing premium wine grapes and wine.

In the vineyard, best practices are set out for the use of agrichemicals perhaps the issue most sensitive to public opinion as well as soil health, water availability and quality, biodiversity, energy use and waste management.

In the winery, it addresses resource, waste and process management.

SWNZ promotes the wellbeing of staff, neighbours and the community.

Accredited wineries may use Sustainable Winegrowing NZ logos on wines produced from 100% accredited grapes.

The programme is also a vehicle for technology transfer, taking the results of industry research out to vineyards and wineries.

A recent international review of SWNZ confirmed that the programmes a world leader, with New Zealand the only country offering a national wine industry sustainability accreditation package.

As a result of the review, short, medium and long-term goals were set including increasing the emphasis on water and energy efficiency, waste management and working towards carbon neutrality.

The emphasis in SWNZ is on self-auditing to check progress towards sustainability goals, with a manual and scorecard spelling out whats required for compliance. Economic as well as environmental sustainability is emphasised.

Participants set their own goals, so emphasis can differ from grower to grower and company to company.

After an initial external audit, vineyards are audited every three years and wineries every two years, to ensure stipulated standards are followed and required records are kept. Annual meetings and technical workshops are an opportunity for discussion and networking by growers and wine companies. Support and advice are also offered.

People think SWNZ membership involves a lot of paperwork, but this isnt true, says national coordinator, Sally van der Zijpp. The records kept are often required for other reasons, and provide a useful history of progress towards sustainability. The audit structure has the integrity and rigour required, to comply with market expectations.

The Seifried family established their first vineyards in 1973, and this is the oldest winery in the South Island. They came on board with SWNZ as soon as the vineyard programme was offered (in 1997, becoming accredited in 1999) and ditto for the winery, in 2004 (accredited in 2006). The Seifried family has been making wines since 1976. The production target is 1500 tonnes of grapes, to make 100,000 plus cases of wine.

Neudorf has been making wine since 1981, and produces 14,000 cases. The companys home vineyard in the Moutere has been a SWNZ member since 2001 and became accredited in 2002. The winery joined in 2006 and is working towards accreditation.

Woollaston Estates was formed in 2000. It produces 16,000 cases of wine a year, planned to exceed 35,000 cases. The 2007 vintage will be the third processed at the new winery. The vineyard joined SWNZ in 2003 and was accredited the following year and the winery joined in 2005 and was accredited last year.

SWNZ sets guidelines as to best vineyard practice to minimise pests and diseases. The emphasis is on prevention of disease rather than cure. Targeted use of a range of specified products to is allowed, not spraying on a calendar basis.

The result is not only a healthier environment and residue-free fruit, but also cost savings in chemical use.

Recommended practices include regular monitoring of pests and disease, treatment when necessary, calibrating sprayers and ensuring accurate application, and recording what chemicals are used, when and at what rates.

Keeping an open canopy to let in plenty of sun, light and wind is the key to healthy vines. If vines dry out quickly each morning, the risk of botrytis infection is reduced. This involves a lot of leaf-plucking.

Applying correct amounts of nitrogen, only when needed, is another key. Its necessary to ensure there is adequate yeast-available nitrogen in grapes for ferments to succeed, but too much and vines will become over-vigorous and leafy.

We know our vineyards, and the areas that are deficient in nitrogen.

No pesticides have been sprayed at Seifried for 10 years, and Hermann Seifried comments that the less sprays are used, the less they are needed. This is because pesticides tend to target not only undesirable species but also beneficial insects which help control undesirables.

Pests used to be a problem when a neighbouring apple orchard was let go with next-to-no active management. Red mite populations became unacceptably high and we had to use vicious insecticides to control them.

Insect growth regulators (IGRs, which work by disrupting the lifecycle of targeted species) are used on targeted parts of the vineyard to control leafroller, but this is becoming less and less of a problem.

The key is monitoring, says Hermann who walks the vineyard every evening. This daily appraisal is backed up with consultancy from Fruitfed which carries out vineyard check-ups plus emails out a fortnightly guide to likely pest and disease problems and solutions.

Reducing herbicide use is trickier than managing without pesticides, Hermann has found. In the past, the inter-row area has been sown in a suitable ryegrass fescue mix but over the years weeds have tended to become more dominant with marshmallow especially aggressive.

Over winter, 2000-2500 lambs keep weeds under control, but usually a couple of weedicide sprays are needed in summer targeting the 700-800mm band directly beneath the vines which cant be reached with a mower without damaging irrigation pipes and sprinklers.

Depending on growth and rainfall, the inter-row area is mowed two to three times a season - usually in conjunction with trimming or some other vineyard activity to minimise vineyard compaction and soil use.

SWNZ limits the types of herbicides which can be used, with residual sprays (pre-emergents) a problem.

Sprayers are calibrated every year and if any new components (such as a pump) are bought in, as this can affect rates applied. Spray nozzles do wear out with holes likely to become bigger letting more chemical through, says Hermann.

Grazing 2000-2500 lambs each year has been the key to sward management at Seifried. With the lambs selling at $90/head last year, this had been quite a lucrative option but with prices likely to drop to $50/head this year, Hermann will take another look at the economics.Two staff are involved with managing the lambs, shifting mobs around the vineyards and also fences.

Hermanns also tried the lambs on leaf plucking, just after bunch closure and before vraison when grapes build their favour. It took them a week to 10 days to get a taste for the grape leaves but then they were quite effective.

Soil testing and leaf analysis are carried out every year in Seifried vineyards. The leaf analysis is needed to check that nutrients in the soil are being taken up by the plants, for example phosphate can be bound up in the soil, says Hermann.

The company has a number of vineyards and all have their own requirements including potash in some areas, magnesium particularly in the hills and boron (which aids flowering and fruitset).

Seifried vines are irrigated if conditions are dry at critical times, until up to 10 days before harvest. This season, it had been necessary to apply water early in the spring. There was plenty of rainfall around Christmas, but since late January it had become extremely dry with no significant rain. Water use is on everybodys minds with the shortages, says Hermann.

The company has 155 hectares of vineyards throughout the Waimea Basin and Moutere Hills, providing a range of soil types and climates. Some of these vineyards have an historic full water-right to 25mm/week while others have partial rights of 1/3 or of that full allocation.

A new area for SWNZ is looking to measure and monitor energy use in vineyards and wineries, to promote efficiency. Seifried and Woollaston have participated in an energy benchmarking project, which is a first step towards introducing energy efficiency to sustainability standards.

Since Seifried is a growing company with increasing vineyard areas coming into production, increasing energy is being used.

The energy benchmarking project confirmed that electricity is a major winemaking cost and its in everyones interest to keep usage at a minimum.

Hermann is very aware of energy use in the vineyard, with the cost of inputs rising but returns falling due to the high New Zealand dollar. The cost of diesel, for example, provides plenty of incentive to minimise use.

When possible, two jobs are done in one pass for example mowing and trimming, and wire-lifting and leaf-plucking.

Biodiversity is covered in scorecards and as part of vineyard audits. A next step will be encouraging the use of land where vines are not planted to enhance biodiversity.

A close to 250% increase in the volume of wine produced in New Zealand since New Zealand Winegrowers Winery Code of Practice was written 10 years ago, has led to SWNZ reviewing international winery practices to check whether the industry here is responsibly using and water and disposing of waste. The project will provide wineries with a benchmark for wastewater and waste-byproduct production and disposal.

Meanwhile, responsible practices are encouraged by staff education and training and measuring and monitoring.

Especially for smaller and older wineries, winery wastewater control and disposal could be the most difficult area in which to achieve sustainability. Water is mostly used during vintage, mainly for cleaning. For example, when wastewater is disposed of to land, it must not flow into waterways or impact soil quality.

Records need to be kept for the volume of water disposed of and onto what land area. Avoidance of run-off into local waterways is required and soil samples may have to be taken to monitor the effect the application of wastewater has on land.

Systems need to be developed to minimise water use and reduce the use of cleaning products like caustic soda which can contaminate the soil.

New wineries have the luxury of being able to design a system that will meet the standard.

Neudorf discharges settled winery wastewaters as well as leachate from its compost piles to a saucer-shaped pond, with the Moutere clay soils creating a water-tight base. This water is sprayed onto pastures where sheep are grazed, onto an area of young vines, and onto a coppice block of trees.

Far from appearing like an industrial waste treatment facility, the pond has been planted and landscaped with islands and a small jetty to become a landscape feature.

Electricity is one of the most expensive inputs into winemaking.

Woollastons four-level solid concrete winery building is designed to harness gravitational energy. Grapes are hand-sorted, de-stemmed and crushed at the top level. In subsequent months, wine falls from level to level, virtually eliminating electric pumps. Not only does harnessing gravity at Woollaston Estate reduce energy use and costs, but the gentle handling reduces the risk of natural flavours being removed and harsh notes introduced to wine.

A state of the art computer system allows wine tanks temperature to be monitored and controlled, towards efficient use of refrigeration.

Much of the building is buried, the underground environment maintaining a cool temperature year-round. The cellar which doubles as a function room is found in the bottom level of the winery.

Woollaston founder and co-owner Philip Woollaston is a former Environment Minister and UN Environment Programme official, so it is not surprising that he takes the global battle against climate change seriously.

Our vineyards and winery are already certified as sustainable but that is not enough. We are committed to achieving carbon neutrality as soon as we can, he says. Gravity flow and passive cooling are a start. The next step will harness solar energy and we are looking at the feasibility of using recycled bio-oils as tractor fuel.

The winery is designed to blend in with the landscape, with tussock and shrubs planted on the roof.

Tim Finn at Neudorf explains that the companys newer buildings are built of modern and traditional energy efficient materials, without compromising aesthetics. The Pinot Noir winery, for example, is made from an insulated sandwich panel but to match older buildings on the site is clad with macrocarpa timber. Thick thermal mass concrete with imbedded insulation was used to construct the barrel storage area, while bottled wine is kept in a building made from locally built mud-bricks, which also provide insulation and thermal mass.

Wineries are required to dispose of marc, lees and other winemaking residues safely, to minimise the release of nitrogen, potassium and biological oxygen (BOD)-demanding substances into the environment.

Neudorf regards this waste as an asset, converting it to compost which is spread in the vineyards in late winter. Winery waste including marc is accumulated in piles and covered, with a bacterial broth added to encourage anaerobic fermentation. The compost is applied to vineyards in late winter.

The pile is located at the bottom of a bank so its easy to tip ingredients in. A clay pan means liquid does not filter through the soil beneath, but is collected in a pipe and diverted to a collection tank then later applied to pasture and amenity trees.

Vineyard prunings are not included in the compost but mulched directly onto the vineyard.

The company has been experimenting with adding local waste-streams; wastewood from the milling of native timber. In a trial run in conjunction with Lincoln University, mussel shells a by-product of the local seafood industry are being used as a reflective mulch under Pinot Noir vines.

Wine companies need to demonstrate they are thinking of ways to reduce packaging and recycle, plus should be documenting policies and training staff.

For 20 years, Seifried had a bottle washer and people used to call at the cellar door with their bottles to get a 10 cent refund and pick up their next dozen. This now longer happens, as markets now demand brand-new bottles with a perfectly smooth top so screwcaps will seal. Different markets demand different bottles.

The company tries to minimise waste with marc fed to their own and a nearby dairy farmers livestock. Lees are left to settle then consolidated and spread on the vineyard, on free-draining soils. Cardboard cartons are collected in bins and taken to the recycling depot.

Neudorf has never pushed the point that its wines are SWNZ accredited, but Tim says more and more people are asking about the companys environmental footprint. This extends from locals to overseas journalists. Last year, for the first time, the companys UK distributors checked sustainability documentation.

Im sure this is a growing trend.

Sometimes Tims frustrated by media emphasis on organic or biodynamic certification, and the implied assumption that, if a producer is not certified organic he is at the other end of some sort of sustainability curve. Truly sustainable viticulture includes some practices that are seen as important organically and others that are not permitted under organic certification, but which may be in the larger view more sustainable.

At Neudorf, the growth of grass and weeds in the inter-row area is controlled by grazing sheep or mowing, while the much smaller undervine area is kept under control with roundup. If you are looking to conserve fossil fuels and protect the structure of clay soils, one or two applications of roundup is a better option than three or four passes with a cultivator.