New Zealand is lucky to be home to a whole host of fruitful wine regions and makers who work to produce some of the world's best vino. Because of this, protecting the farmland that grows our favourite whites, reds and sparking whilst also keeping businesses sustainable is becoming increasingly important in the industry. More often winemakers are choosing to put the impact of produce on the environment first, before monetary profit. Matahiwi Estate and Borthwick Winery are among the wineries adhering to this movement, with many others sure to follow.
We talk to the experts behind online wine retailer Vinomofo about how they are supporting the wineries behind the vino.
How important is sustainable farming for vineyards?
In New Zealand, it's hardly even a decision, with an incredibly participation rate – as of 2016, 98% of New Zealand's vineyard area was certified with Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (almost certainly the highest participation rate in a voluntary wine sustainability program, worldwide). The environment is on everyone's minds these days, and a luxury good like wine needs to wade head-first into sustainability and be a leader in this area. New Zealand winegrowers have clearly heard – and answered – the call, and lead the world in this regard.
What’s involved with being a sustainable vineyard?
There are heaps of hoops to jump through, with many checks and balances, encompassing biodiversity (cover crops and beneficial bugs), soil, water, air, chemical inputs, all the way through to energy use, people and business practices. Certified wineries have to show minimum standards and continuous improvement in these areas. For example, in 2016, winegrowers had set aside 2,500 ha for biodiversity, restoration or enhancement. The same people reduced landfill from vineyard by-products by the equivalent volume of 36 olympic swimming pools in the same year. Nothing to sneeze at. In sustainably-focused vineyards, you'll see things like sheep grazing in winter to keep down weed pressure, chickens pecking around having a feast on creepy crawlies, and crops planted between vineyard rows to encourage beneficial bugs (rather than just using sprays for pest control). You'll see more attention, and care, from the growers.
Why is it important for Vinomofo to include sustainably farmed wines on the website?
First and foremost, we seek to offer the best wine quality at any given price. The wines that win on the tasting bench are often from smaller producers, and many are from sustainable, organic and biodynamic vineyards. It's not one certification system or the next that implies good wine, though, it's attention and care from vineyard to bottle. If a winegrower's bothered to jump through all the hoops and maintain their sustainable status, it's always a good sign because it means that they care. Sustainable wines are a good indicator of potential quality, particularly because we've curated them further.
Is there a change in taste between wines that are sustainably farmed and that aren't?
You can't taste if a wine's been produced using sustainably farming. Seriously, don't bother testing it (unless you're doing a PhD – do it quantifiably and let us know!) Sustainable farming is about caring about the impact of your produce on the environment and people's health. The more salient point is that the quality of the breed (wine as a whole) can't help but be improved along with way.
What does sustainable farming mean when it comes to wine?
The definition of 'sustainable' differs from place to place, but we're lucky in New Zealand to have one system to rule them all, Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, which adheres to internationally set sustainability standards. A vineyard or winery that signs up shows clear intent to respect the environment and produce the healthiest wine they can, while minimising unnecessary inputs and by-product outputs; the farm as close to a closed loop as possible.
Not just a marketing tool, it forces wineries to really look at their practices, and as they say: where focus goes, energy flows. It also forces them to widen their views to the environment at large. There are so many cases of New Zealand wineries actively supporting local, native flora and fauna in different ways, often as a result of being involved in the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand program.
How do you remain sustainable?
By showing improvement each year in the practices mentioned above. By reporting on these, it kinda forces you to want to get better anyway, and show improvement.
What does this mean for the consumer?
By choosing sustainable wine, you're choosing to support a winegrower who's put the extra time and care into their vines and wines. It's no trivial effort, you're certainly going to feel better drinking wine that's better for the planet.
In what direction is the sustainably farmed wine movement going?
Sustainable farming is only on the rise, and as a movement it forces and encourages wineries to focus on innovations in sustainability, as well as work together to improve broader environmental initiatives. Adoption of organic and biodynamic growing is in hot pursuit. Right now, Australia is seeing a big shift as its previously disparate programs are bound up in a single national sustainability program, Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, which rolls out on July 1, 2019. Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand is undoubtedly leading the way on a world scale.
As a result of such cohesion, and the emphasis on helping the environment, we see winegrowers voluntarily improving the world around them, and gaining a platform to share, teach and learn together. Wouldn't you rather be drinking the wine, and telling the stories, of people actually making their small part of the world a better place?