When Rapaura Springs bought a vineyard in an arid and windswept pocket of Marlborough's Blind River, building soil health became their focus.
"To our industry, sustainability means growing grapes and producing our world-famous wines in such a way that we can do so for generations to come."
The recently released report shares insights from the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) programme, which accounts for more than 96% of all vineyard area in New Zealand, showcasing data from 1,840 vineyards and 310 wineries.
That data offers a "unique opportunity" to tell New Zealand's wine sustainability story "at a time when caring for people and place is so aligned to our customer's values", says New Zealand Winegrowers (NZW) General Manager of Sustainability, Dr Edwin Massey.
Ranit Librach, NZW's United States Market Manager, says purchasing patterns of consumers and buyers have "definitely shifted" over the past two years. At a recent New Zealand wine tasting in New York, buyers talked of an increase in customers asking for sustainable wines, and "a top retailer mentioned that one in five are asking", says Ranit.
Edwin says it is important to have empirical and certified evidence of sustainability stories, noting the threat posed by greenwash in the market and in engagement with regulators. NZW's new report measures and communicates progress across six key focus areas of sustainability - climate, water, waste, soil, plant protection, and people.
The industry body has committed to the wine industry being carbon zero by 2050, and all SWNZ members now receive personalised greenhouse gas reports. The report indicates that 58% of wineries and 41% of vineyards are already implementing specific initiatives to minimise their carbon footprint, including 55% of wineries using lightweight glass bottles.
Edwin notes the "journey to 2050 is a long one", with plenty of challenges ahead, "but the report highlights that we are starting in a good place. People are starting to engage with this issue". The motivations to do so are myriad, including markets demanding reduced emissions and regulations ensuring a high-carbon business is also a high-cost business, says Edwin. "Everything we do that produces emissions will become more expensive."
Some wine companies, large and small, are leading the way in reducing and mitigating greenhouse gases, and those "champions" are key to the journey, he adds. "You need these people who take the first steps and are proud of the commitment they have made and are happy to share their stories."
Another highlight of the report is the "depth of data" surrounding water use, and the steps being taken to protect and conserve the resource, says Edwin, with 92% of vineyards and wineries running initiatives to conserve or reduce water use, alongside efforts to protect and enhance waterways. Those actions are "extremely important" given the Government's environmental reform agenda and protection of te mana o te wai, he says.
The work being done by SWNZ members is showing "real leadership" in New Zealand's primary sector, he adds. Virtually all SWNZ vineyards (99%) use non-chemical methods as one of their strategies for managing pest and disease, and 81% of vineyards worked to promote soil health in the last season. Meanwhile, 98% of vineyards and wineries are undertaking waste reduction, recovery and recycling programme, pushing towards NZW's target of zero waste to landill by 2050.
"The New Zealand wine industry has rightfully earned its place as one of the most progressive wine producing nations in the world," says Edwin. Having 96% of members in SWNZ and 10% certified organic "is an achievement we can be proud of", he adds. "But the real work is ensuring we not only sustain but elevate our position with an enduring commitment to continuous improvement."
Read the full report at nzwine.com/sustainability-report