Sustainable: /səˈsteɪnəb(ə)l/ Adjective.
Sustainability is the capacity to endure. Sustainable ecosystems are ones that are able to maintain, support and persevere. At Felton Road, sustainability is part of our essence – it is what we do. As an organic and biodynamic vineyard, with an intense desire to make wines that exhibit a strong sense of place, we place great importance on the sustainability of our vineyards and winery.
Within this document, we have outlined our sustainability principles and strategies, covering every aspect of our vineyard and winery activities. From the broader vineyard activities right down to more minor details like consumption of office materials; every opportunity is carefully monitored to ensure that we are being as sustainable as possible, so that we can maintain our land, support it, and help it to persevere.
Waste Minimisation and Recycling
Winery waste is, probably more than any other substance, lees. Lees are a mixture of sediments left over from winemaking, and consist mainly of dead yeast and tartaric and malic acid. It isn’t particularly hostile stuff, but acids are a problem in any waste system, so winery waste management systems are designed to deal with this mixture. It takes a lot of money to build a waste management system and a lot of energy to run it so, in a perfect world, we’d do without one. But is it possible to do that? We have demonstrated that it is.
Our solution is simple: don’t throw anything away. Nothing whatsoever goes down our drains unless we have failed to find a better use for it. And since almost all waste has some form of value, there is a better use out there. Lees, for example, get separated into fine lees (the more liquid stuff) and the solid gunk. The solids are composted. It might be tricky to compost something this acidic for some wineries, but as we make well over 100 tonnes of compost a year anyway, the lees solids are literally a drop in the manure heap.
That leaves the more liquid stuff to deal with. Each year it goes to a beautiful wood fired copper still and is distilled into “Fine”: the term for brandy distilled from wine lees. Roughly a thousand litres of lees yields about 100 litres of wonderful brandy.
After around 5 years of aging in French oak using a “solera” type system, it is ready to bottle. What better way to recycle something that most regard as an industrial waste product?
All coarse solids such as seeds, skins and stems, are collected in screens fitted to all winery drains; these solids are then added to the compost. The winery waste water is chemically analsyed at periodic intervals, to ensure it is within required parameters set by our waste water discharge permit. This waste water is then sprinkled on the steep slopes above our vineyards and, in particular, the more fertile south-facing slopes. These slopes, facing away from the fierce Central Otago summer sun (and drying wind), can then grow grass which is used to feed the animals.
Briar and Goats
The steep slopes that surround the Elms vineyard are covered with Sweet Briar, a wild rose that was originally introduced for rose hips (as a source of vitamin C for the gold-mining settlers) but, just as with broom or gorse, Sweet Briar began to take over the hillsides of Bannockburn rapidly. With around 25 hectares of these steep slopes, we needed a solution to manage the spread of the Sweet Briar Rose. The local norm of burning or spraying the wild rose with harsh chemicals was not an option for us; we needed a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach. The answer came with African Boer goats. These intelligent and hardy animals love roses (as anybody who has had a goat in their garden will testify) and will eat them in preference to the grass or other plants. Today we have about a 50 strong herd. They pretty much self-manage, needing a bit of feed supplement in winter and a watchful eye when kidding, but otherwise take care of themselves. Each year we have about 20-25 kids, plenty for keeping the herd strength up, and giving us a year round supply of fantastic meat (think the best lamb you have ever had, but a lot leaner).
With the addition of wastewater and goat manure mix to the grassy hillsides, we have enough fertility to run a few head of highland cattle, as the goats are not overly keen on a grass-only diet. These cattle not only help to keep the hillsides neat, they supply us with their horns for making our biodynamic preparations. Their manure is also collected for making Preparation 500 and CPP (Cow Pat Pit). So essentially, a scrubby piece of Central Otago hillside has become a productive beef and goat farm that is not merely low impact: it is positive impact; enhancing the sustainability and ecosystems on our vineyard properties.
Compost, Biodynamics and Terroir
Wine has the unique ability to taste of a place. That introduces a different requirement of sustainability: it is not about merely sustaining the greater world, but also of somehow keeping a specific site true to taste. And since we do not know what it is that creates that magic “somewhereness” we have to assume that any external influence could be a hazard. Now we have a different reason to be organic: bringing in chemicals from outside and putting them on the land and plants will bring a “somewhere-elseness” into our “somewhereness”. But would that only apply to chemicals? Could organic inputs also affect the uniqueness of site?
For some years now we have been carefully thinking about protecting our unique expression of place. We have set aside land for growing peastraw, wheatstraw, and other crops for growing green material for compost making. This eliminates the need to bring in compost supplies from outside our properties, making our compost more unique and specific to our land. We have only allowed the natural indigenous yeasts of our land and winery to be used in our winemaking, as our microbial population must also be part of that “somewhereness”. Perhaps the most extreme step is that our pressings and stems from winemaking are sent back to make compost separately for each vineyard. So when a Cornish Point wine is pressed, those pressings are delivered back to Cornish Point to be composted there, so that they don’t get mixed into another vineyard and somehow dilute the uniqueness of that site.
Is this just anal daftness? The problem is we don’t know, and will never know, whether this is important or not. But, if it is important and we ignore it, then we can never undo our actions.
Sensitivity with Packaging
The single greatest carbon input in our viticulture and winemaking is glass. We have recently adopted the use of lighter weight wine bottles to further our sustainable and environmental sensitivity. These lighter weight bottles weigh 417 grams, which is 22% less than our previous bottle (which was already relatively light weight). Many “premium” wineries use glass bottles that are significantly heavier – up to double the weight of our current bottle. (We even weighted one empty bottle at 1200g!) By using a bottle that is over 20% lighter in weight and made in New Zealand from around 65% recycled glass, we are able to save considerable amounts in shipping costs, not to mention the reduced energy requirement for manufacturing and recycling. The energy required for shipping and distribution of bottled wine is therefore lowered, further reducing our carbon footprint. At an annual production of around 150,000 bottles, these savings are indeed significant.
No excessive packaging
Our wine is not dressed up in wooden boxes, with decorative straw and tissue paper. We use more environmentally friendly and highly sustainable style of packaging using cardboard boxes made from recycled materials (33-100% recycled content and water-based ink) which are used again where possible (our cellar door stock is often packed in reused cartons, for example) and can be recycled to minimise and even eliminate any waste. Large cardboard boxes that our screwcaps are delivered in are sent to a local moving company to be reused again before being recycled. It is important to us that we try to minimise our carbon footprint in every way possible.
All of our wines are sealed with screwcaps which are made from aluminium - a product that is infinitely recyclable. When compared to the carbon cost of using a natural product like cork, aluminium screwcaps have significant advantages. They are made in Australia which is closer than shipping corks from Portugal and the failure rate of this closure is virtually nil, compared with the 3 – 10% (and significantly worse as wine ages) failure rate of corks.
When the energy and carbon cost is calculated on all the faulty or undrinkable bottles, aluminium screwcaps look very favourable. In addition, almost all cork closed bottles utilise a foil made of tin or aluminium to “dress” the bottle. The screwcaps that we use are 20% lighter than our previous tin foil.
Glass - All glass bottles used at the winery are recycled. Even the beer we drink at harvest time (it takes a lot of beer to make good wine…!) is from kegs to minimise the use of glass.
Cardboard and Paper - All cardboard and paper is recycled. Envelopes for pay-slips are from recycled envelopes. Note and scrap paper is from previously used paper.
Plastic - All plastic materials are recycled.
Non-Recyclable Waste - The winery has a domestic sized wheelie bin that is collected only once every two weeks. Staff are all instructed to sort and recycle all possible recyclable waste.
Food Waste - All food waste and coffee grinds (winemakers can drink a lot of coffee…!) is composted on site.
Unsolicited Mailings - All duplicate, unsolicited or unnecessary mailings to the winery are stopped to reduce waste and unnecessary postage.
Buy Local – We are in a remote location which makes us particularly aware of the need to source as locally as possible, minimising carbon transport costs.
Trunks from the old vines that have been replaced, as well as trees on the vineyards, are retained, then burnt in the two fireplaces of the winery to heat both the cellar door and the apartment.
Our organic and biodynamic philosophy helps create a more sustainable vineyard and winery, through a greater understanding of the interactions between the soils, microorganisms, plants and animals. The result is a healthy and balanced ecosystem.
During the spring and summer months, several species of cover crops are sown in every second row in the vineyard. The mix of planting includes peas and triticale. Every tenth row is a mixed flowering species, which includes species like phacelia, buckwheat, rape, mustard and radish, to attract beneficial insects and increase insect biodiversity. Cover crops assist in regulating vine growth, water and wind erosion, weed control, help to improve and maintain soil fertility and the nutrient value, enhance soil structure, stability and waterholding capacity, and lastly, enhance biological diversity and activity in the root zone, therefore providing a healthy habitat for beneficial insects and microorganisms.
The Voodoo lounge
The Voodoo Lounge is where our biodynamic preparations are made and stored. Cow horns from our highland cattle are stuffed with cow manure and buried in the ground over winter. After a specific period of time (according to the lunar calendar), the dung is removed from the horn and mixed vigorously with water to create a highly energised and microbially enriched potion that is hand sprinkled onto the vineyard to provide nutrients to the microorganisms and eventually the vines.
Earthworms are a valuable animal at Felton Road, due to the benefits that they provide to soil health and fertility. Our sustainable viticultural practices encourage earthworm populations to improve and maintain healthy soil biodiversity.
As Felton Road is an organic and biodynamic vineyard, we follow a lunar calendar and a set of guidelines that are associated with biodynamic practice. We believe biodynamics is highly beneficial as a sustainable way of farming, as its core values and beliefs center around care for the environment and land. Biodynamic “preps” are used to enhance soil health and vine growth and livelihood, and are dispersed in the vineyard at certain times depending on the lunar calendar (a calendar based on lunar cycles).
At each vineyard site, we have a separate compost heap that is only to be used at that particular vineyard, to ensure a sense of site and terroir is retained in some way at each location. Staff are encouraged to recycle all food scraps into the compost bins which are located at each vineyard site.
Our older blocks of vines were originally planted with CCA (Copper, Chromium and Arsenic) treated timber posts. This treated timber has a longer life than that of other timbers, therefore protecting New Zealand forestry by reducing the need. However, in recent years and in accordance with organic certification requirements, metal posts have been used in all replantings and new vineyard developments. These posts have a signifcantly longer life and therefore energy costs are reduced as they do not need to be replaced as often.
Our well-insulated underground cellars provide an ideal stable temperature environment for aging the wines. This reduces the energy requirement in maintaining appropriate temperatures. We try to utilise the natural seasonal temperature changes as much as possible e.g. We open the cellar doors in the spring time to warm the cellars to encourage the secondary or malolactic fermentation to occur.
We have humidification systems to ensure that we limit the evaporative losses of wine. Why spend all that energy, time and money growing and making the wine, only to then have it evaporate from the barrels? In Central Otago, with our low humidities, evaporative losses are significant and it is estimated that we can reduce this loss from about 6% to 3%, which is a significant saving.
Heating and Cooling
A modern and efficient refrigeration system captures the heat that is generated from the cooling system that can then go on to be used as free energy for heating requirements in the winery. Another simple way that we work towards energy savings is by opening the cellar doors during the spring time, to let the air naturally warm the cellars to enable the secondary malolactic fermentation.
Our electricity supply is generated only from completely renewable resources (we are lucky to have a hydro power station just 15km away!). Electricity usage is carefully monitored and all practical steps are taken to reduce power usage. The winery was designed and built into the hillside enabling gravity to be used for most winery operations. This results in electricity savings as activities such as pumping is greatly reduced.
Environmental Biodiversity and Responsibility
Kaz and Reva
In recent years, Felton Road has helped raise and release two native New Zealand falcons (Kārearea) which have, along with the other animals that we have here at Felton Road, contributed to our sustainable culture and environmental sensitivity. These endangered native falcons feed on the rabbit species, a pest known to the region, and also keep the birds away from the vineyard reducing bird damage to the grapes.
Life in the waterways
The clean and clear water that fills our waterways and dams has proved to be a good environment for other wildlife, including trout, which are found in our irrigation dam. Clean waterways and dams are incredibly important to us and our sustainability principles.
Every spring we plant our own vegetable gardens and hot-house with a wide range of vegetables. It is most satisfying to have harvest lunches for up to 50 people where so much of the produce has come off our own land.
Biodynamics as a philosophy requires an equal level of care to everything in our environment and that includes the people who work for us. Every employer should be a benefit to the local community. That includes not just offering jobs, but also creating flexibility so that our need for good people can fit the needs of the people locally. We are
proud of the way we have managed to support local, sometimes retired people, by matching their skills and hours to our needs. At the other end of the age range, we have worked hard to bring young talent into the region. These young people are mostly from vineyard areas in Northern Europe, America or Asia and either from winegrowing families or recent graduates of viticulture and oenology studies. This provides us with enthusiastic, talented and dedicated staff to carry out our viticultural and winemaking operations to the highest standard, while creating an export of international awareness of the region and what it has to offer.
We have a strong emphasis on providing a safe working environment and have been accredited with ACC’s (Accident Compensation Commission) highest level of workplace safety management systems for over 8 years.
We encourage local and overseas training for our staff and also regularly receive field trips from New Zealand and International learning institutions.
Felton Road has a charitable trust established which operates internationally in many ways. By donating rare bottles to charity auctions as well as other auction prizes we can magnify significantly the value of our donations. We also support a variety of charities in the developing world from a fund established from a portion of our profits.