25/05/2020 - 15:49

Sustainability gains ground in Margs

25/05/2020 - 15:49

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The wine industry is shifting to more sustainable production methods.

Sustainability gains ground in Margs
Paul Holmes à Court says Vasse Felix has practised organic farming for five years. Photo: Frances Andrijich

The wine industry is shifting to more sustainable production methods.

Several big-name South West wineries are reviewing their supply chains and production processes as part of a push for a more environmentally friendly industry. 

Vasse Felix chief executive Paul Holmes à Court said conventional methods of farming were being questioned and there was a groundswell of people moving towards more sustainable practices. 

“It’s part of that overall philosophy if you are running a business, which is an agricultural business at its heart, and you plan on running it forever, then you need to be environmentally and agriculturally sustainable,” Mr Holmes à Court told Business News

The winery, ranked as the sixth largest on the BNiQ database, is in the process of applying for certification with the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia across its 300 hectares of vineyards, Mr Holmes à Court said.

He said Vasse Felix had practised organic farming for five years and had been in the process of certification for two, with the first of the company’s properties expected to achieve organic classification later this year.

In order to meet the certification standards, wineries must refrain from using fungicides, pesticides and some herbicides, and adopt new practices to mimic the use of chemicals.

At Vasse Felix, Mr Holmes à Court said one of the important processes used was to compost the leftover grapes, skins, stems and stalks, which provided the soils with nitrogen. 

He said while the winery’s practices were already compliant, becoming certified organic provided consumers with a guarantee of quality assurance. 

 “You get audited, you get checked and you can’t take any shortcuts,” Mr Holmes à Court said 

“It forces you to think really hard about what you need to do.”

However, transitioning to organic practices comes at a price. 

“It is expensive, there’s more manual labour, there’s more work done by hand, and you have to be willing to accept that your yields may go down and be more variable,” Mr Holmes à Court said. 

“You just have to accept that your yields will vary very much with the natural cycles of the season, and you need to be able to wear that and accommodate that in your business.” 

Voyager Estate, founded by the Wright Family and listed as the 16th largest winery on BNiQ, is gaining certification through Australian Organic and plans to be fully credentialled by 2023.

The winery also offsets 100 per cent of its carbon emissions through purchases via a certified scheme, and has planted more than 70,000 native trees to rehabilitate cleared farmland.

Cullen Wines, ranked 31st on BNiQ’s wineries list, was an early adopter of organic practices, making the transition in 1998. It followed up in 2003 with a move to explore biodynamic farming, which treats the land as a living system. 

Biodynamics involves the addition of mineral, plant and animal substances to the vines instead of traditional chemicals and sprays, and taking the lunar cycle into consideration when planting grapes. 

Biological Farmers of Australia, now called Australian Organic, certified Cullen’s principal vineyard as A-grade biodynamic in 2004, while the Mangan vineyard and the winery overall received accreditation in 2008.

Western Australia’s 12th largest winery according to BNiQ, Cape Mentelle Vineyards, stopped using herbicides this year. It will keep weeds and grasses down by letting a flock of sheep loose in the vineyard over winter, as well as hand weeding.

The winery cut water use in its vineyards by 60 per cent from 2016 to 2019, and recycles 100 per cent of the water used in its winery via a self-contained rain and surface water treatment system.

Cape Mentelle Vineyards brand manager Marine Laurent said the pristine nature of the region had been a big part of the inspiration for change. 

“We are so lucky to be living in this environment that is so well protected, and I think there is a real community feel and ambition to keep it as is and not pollute it,” Ms Laurent told Business News

“We just don’t want to leave the environment in a worse position than we found it and that’s why we try to preserve the beauty of our region.”

Ms Laurent said there was a significant amount of research available to producers about sustainable practices. 

“We could do even more and we are really looking forward to doing more, it’s just that it takes some time and some investment,” she said.

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