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Sustainability in the Australian Grape and Wine Sector
By Sandra Taylor
Aug 13, 2019
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In July I had the privilege of being a speaker at the Australian Wine International Technical Conference (AWITC) in Adelaide, the premier technical event for the Australian wine industry.  Held every three years since 1970, it combines an extensive program of plenary sessions, workshops, posters, student forum and social events and an extensive trade exhibition.  I addressed a plenary session on diversity in the wine industry:  “What’s Happening Internationally and Why You Need to Care.”  In a workshop Sustainability in the Australian grape and wine sector, I presented the business case for sustainability and what motivates wineries and vineyards to adopt sustainable practices.  I shared a case study on Jackson Family Wines, and the company’s impressive progress on water management, energy efficiency, climate mitigation, sustainability communications reports and their monthly highlight of a sustainably produced wine.  

The workshop was also the venue where the new national Sustainable Winegrowing Australia was launched and toasted, as wineries there calculate the business case for corporate responsibility, the risks of climate change and the social license to operate.  The search for a more eco-friendly way of doing things has led winemakers and wine drinkers alike to think differently about how we make and enjoy wine.   Consumers pay greater attention to whether their food and beverages are produced in a responsible way and want to see proof of sustainability efforts and outside endorsement of the company’s efforts as an unbiased validation.   Leading sustainable certification programs in Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States give consumers that confidence.
The Australian wine industry has been building its capacity in the sustainability space for many years, with the launch of numerous regional programs, like the McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing Australia (MVSWGA), and the national sustainability program, “Entwine Australia,”  which allowed vineyards and wineries to choose among several certifications -- ISO 14001 or one from Freshcare , the certification program for the Australian fresh produce industry – which ever best suited their business needs.  In 2018, the industry decided to consolidate the existing programs into a single, united national program that is owned and led nationally, integrating the best parts of all of them into this national program.
Managed by The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), Sustainable Winegrowing Australia is a new, unified way of managing the sustainability credentials of Australian winegrape growers and winemakers at the national level.  The benefit of having a united, national program is that it brings all producers under a single banner.  This means that the industry can report and communicate performance consistently across Australia with no confusion or fragmentation.   And, of course, this will contribute to consumer confidence and understanding of what it means to be a sustainable Australian wine.

Chief winemaker from Yalumba, Louisa Rose, delivered the official launch speech to an audience of growers, winemakers and representatives of industry organizations, highlighting the importance of sustainability to her own company and to the Australian wine industry as a whole.

Australia’s winegrape growers, wine producers and wine businesses will all benefit from a single national sustainability program.  The program will assist with:

•    tools and resources to enhance business sustainability
•    meeting customer sustainability requirements
•    sustainability claims made by participants.

Australian wine consumers and customers will also benefit from consistent communication underpinned by a technically robust program.

In  the program, Sustainable Winegrowing Australia members commit to annually reporting business metrics and completing a workbook of vineyard or winery practices.  The program covers the fundamental components of sustainability (environmental, social and economic) and can be applied to both the vineyard and winery.  All members seeking certification require an independent audit against the Australian Wine Industry Standards of Sustainable Practice (AWISSP) for viticulture and wineries.  They then implement required processes and/or changes in the vineyard or winery based on information from the standards.
Certified members of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia choose to be independently certified by undergoing a triennial, third-party audit against the AWISSP.
While sustainability isn’t new to the industry, Sustainable Winegrowing Australia still has lots of work recruiting additional members this year and getting members transferred from the other organizations.  So far it has members in 43 of Australia’s wine regions covering approximately 25% of Australia’s winegrape vineyard area and 30% of the national winery crush.  

I had the added pleasure of visiting the Penfolds Magill Estate, very close to Adelaide, for a personal tour by Penfolds Global brand ambassador, Jamie Sach, who provided an enjoyable history and walk through the estate, topped off by a tasting of Grange 2014…a truly heavenly experience of one of the world’s greatest (and most expensive) wines at about $600.  Back in the realm of mere mortals, I also enjoyed the tasting of Bin 389 Cab Shiraz 2016 (roughly $60), Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2016 ($85) and the 2014 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz ($150).  Penfolds is a member of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia; actually, all of the Treasury Wine Estates vineyards and wineries are certified members. 

My visit to d’Arenberg Winery and Vineyards, another certified member in the McLaren Vale wine region in South Australia, was a fun experience in the d'Arenberg Cube, a five-story building situated within the d’Arenberg vineyards.  The building was designed by d'Arenberg's Chief Winemaker, Chester Osborn, who is of the fourth generation of the Osborn family owners.  Completed in 2017, the building has become a major tourist attraction and is noted for its distinctive geometric design, largely resembling a Rubik’s Cube, with its facades predominantly consisting of double-tempered glass.

The d'Arenberg Cube is the winery’s “cellar door” (as they say Down Under), a multi-use building that features a restaurant, a wine tasting room, a virtual fermenter, a 360-degree video room and the Alternate Realities Museum, which features numerous art installations.  There I tasted several white wines including The Hermit Crab, a Viognier / Marsanne blend, and the Lucky Lizard Chardonnay. 

A few other certified members of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia include:

Cape Mentelle vineyard, Margaret River

Farmers Leap vineyards, Padthaway

Katnook Estate vineyard, Coonawarra

Kingston Estate vineyards, nationally

Leeuwin Estate vineyard, Margaret River

Pernod Ricard (Jacob’s Creek) vineyards and wineries nationally

Petaluma vineyard and winery, Adelaide Hills

Pooley Wines vineyard, Tasmania

Taylors vineyard and winery, Clare Valley

Voyager Estate vineyard, Margaret River   

More wine columns:     Sandra Taylor 
Connect with Sandra on Twitter:    @SanElizTaylor