Times of turmoil famously cause people and companies to take a close look at the way they’re doing things.
At Yealands Wines, the award-winning New Zealand winery that hugs the wild Marlborough coastline so closely its vines are often misted with sea spray, a determination to produce a high-quality product in challenging conditions has forged innovation – long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Michael Wentworth, Yealands Wines General Manager External Relations and Sustainability, delights in talking about how Yealands’ creative decision-making drives bold thinking, and how it makes sense for farming businesses everywhere.
General Manager for External Relations & Sustainability
“Our vision is to lead the world in sustainable wine production, but one of the things we’ve learnt is sustainability isn’t as big or as hard as lots of people think. A big part of sustainability is always looking to improve some of the biggest costs and risks to your business that you can control,” Michael explained.
Yealands Wines produces more than 12 different grape varieties but focusses primarily on sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, which are grown on 1,200 hectares of vineyards and exported to over 65 countries. The key to making sought-after wines in a region many considered inhospitable to viticulture, because of its steep slopes and strong coastal winds, has been an unwavering commitment to working with nature. To date, Yealands has collected 28 trophies and more than 1,700 awards, including best sauvignon blanc in the world.
Yealands is also New Zealand’s only certified carbon neutral winery courtesy of producing energy from solar, wind and the burning of vine prunings (in place of utilising LPG), its work to reduce off-farm emissions, and the purchase of carbon offsets for those emissions it can’t avoid. It brings in sheep to keep weeds down, free-ranging ex-battery hens to help with pest control, and uses inter-row planting of crops and flowering species between vines to attract beneficial insects. It has also planted more than 200,000 native shrubs and flaxes.
“In January 2020, we became one of six wineries worldwide aiming to decarbonise the wine industry. By joining the International Wineries for Climate Action we’ve committed to reduce our carbon footprint by 80 per cent by 2045.
“Some ways to reduce emissions include updating our tractor fleet regularly with new lower emission machines, and looking for ways to reduce time operating them by doing more than one function at the same time, but there will be many, many more things we need to look at.”
In 2018 Marlborough’s electricity distribution network, which is owned by all Marlborough electricity consumers, acquired 100pc of Yealands Wines as an investment for the people of the region. This community connection has been the catalyst for Yealands to look more broadly at its impacts.
“We’re now investing $100,000 per year in the Yealands Marlborough Sustainability Initiative for non-profit community groups to undertake environmental projects,” Michael said.
“We also support building projects like a community hall and early learning centre, and encourage local employment as much as possible.”
This concern for people was on clear display in Yealands’ response to the COVID-19 crisis
“Fortunately, wine was identified as an essential industry so we were able to continue with the vintage, but we had to put in place very strict protocols,” Michael said.
“We set up a mini village of campervans at the winery where a small number of people stayed on-site during harvest to process the grapes. We’re conscious this bubble meant people inside it were away from their loved ones for an extended period of time during a very busy period, and the people outside it were isolated from the winery, so we set up pastoral care for to make sure everyone was okay.”
Ironically in a time of isolation, Michael’s final advice for farmers everywhere is to keep reaching out.
“Don’t work in isolation, you can achieve a lot more if you partner with others or talk to people,” he urged.