Spy Valley Wines Sustainability

May 2016

Efforts by this winery's operators in energy and water consumption are paying off

Spy Valley’s 3000 tonne-crush winery in Marlborough’s Waihopai Valley is one of the most advanced in New Zealand. Built in 2003 through to full production in 2007, the winery is ISO 14001 certified, focusing on managing environmental responsibilities. The family-owned company exports 80% of its production.

Spy Valley Wines leads the industry in efficient use of energy and water. Since starting in 2003, this New Zealand family-owned wine company has continuously introduced new systems aimed at minimising impacts on the environment.

The most visible evidence of its commitment to energy efficiency is the bank of solar panels on the winery’s roof, generating 52 kilowatts of electricity, meeting 25% of its needs. This is mostly a 7am-5pm business, so the energy is generated in the hours it’s used.

Winery operations manager Bruce Walker says 98% of the solar supply is consumed by the company. First priority is the refrigeration plant, the biggest electricity consumer in the winery used to keep wine tanks cool. Any surplus is then directed to mains boards, feeding general use like power points and lights.

In winter months when it’s cooler and the load on supply is less, there’s a small surplus sold back onto the grid at about 7 cents per kilowatt versus the purchase price of 18-22 cents. “With this price difference, it made sense to use as much of the solar energy as possible inside the company, rather than selling” Bruce says.

Some companies opt for battery banks to store power but with activity at the winery tracking the sun’s cycle, the added expense was not thought to be necessary.

Installation of 211 solar panels in 2013 was prompted by joining the international ISO 14001 environmental certification scheme, selected over other sustainability accreditation systems because of the international weight it carries. For the size of the company, Spy Valley was a big electricity user, so went solar to reduce reliance on the grid.

The scheme cost about $140,000 and is tracking to pay for itself in seven years. With the panels guaranteed for 25-30 years, Spy Valley’s counting on 18-23 years of free electricity.

Blenheim company, Solar Synergy (www.solarsynergy.co.nz) designed, sourced and installed the system which creates 52 kilowatts of power a year from an average of six sunshine hours per day.

Half the winery’s roof is at the right angle for panels which could generate half its electricity. However, the polypanel-aluminium used on much of the roof area would not support the solar panels’ weight.  “At the time of building, the economics of solar had not yet turned a corner,” says Bruce.

Another benefit from using solar power is that it reduces carbon dioxide emissions. “To date, we have avoided more than 20.63 tonnes compared to if we were relying solely on power off the grid,” says Bruce.

In Marlborough’s sunny climate, he sees no reason that every large building being constructed should not be required to install solar panels to help reduce the district’s carbon footprint towards meeting national global warming targets.

The next step is converting the whole complex to movement-triggered LED lights. Installed by Philips Lighting NZ and Contact Energy, each of the 200 bulbs works independently.

The decision to install the bulbs was made after a regular power audit identified this could save on average $4500 annually as well as additional carbon dioxide emissions of around 3 tonnes per room.

An earlier audit led to installing a nitrogen generator, used in making wines and in the bottling plant which saves money and reduces reliance on external third party suppliers. Bruce explains that an air compressor forces air through carbon filters set to prevent nitrogen going through. This nitrogen is then held in a storage vessel and put into tanks and barrels to prevent oxidation.

Refrigeration has been tweaked to capture heat and used to warm glycol which regulates wine temperature during ferments. Four new, efficient presses are being installed ahead of the 2016 vintage.

Spy Valley Wines uses 0.5 litres of winery water to make one litre of wine. This compares with the 3.5-4 litres required by most wineries.

Bruce says cleaning tanks accounts for most water use in wineries. Spy Valley has made savings by an efficient cleaning cycle and not tolerating dripping taps.

It’s been a trade-off between using more fossil fuels and less water, Bruce admits. The company uses hot water, heated by a diesel generator, to wash tanks with only one cleaning required for 98% of tanks. Most companies use cold water which takes two or three washes.

Aluminium taps and fittings are used rather than plastic because they don’t crack or move when dropped.

Spy Valley also invested heavily in wastewater treatment, before the 2014 vintage. Blenheim engineering firm Cuddon Ltd recommended tripling the irrigation field and installing more sprinklers which eliminated ponding. One cycle of wastewater is used for under-vine irrigation of a sauvignon blanc block.

Monitoring went beyond what was required including testing for freshwater clarity, solids and sampling of soils in disposal areas.

“It takes a lot of money to tidy up wastewater treatment with very little return on the investment. At the end of the day, you’d be better off spending on something like better looking bottles or labels that’ll earn you more money,” Bruce says.

In the vineyard, Spy Valley uses well below average rates of irrigation water.

Viticulturist, Adam McCone, explains consultancy Fruition Horticulture monitors soil moisture and makes recommendations based on results. During the last irrigation season from September 2014 to May 2015, the company used 35% of the district average of water for vines on light soils and 51% for medium soils.

No irrigation was applied to vines on heavy soils.

Plant & Food records show the 12 months from July 2014 to June 2015 were the driest on record. The 220.8mm rainfall from September to April 2014 to April 2015 was the fourth lowest on record.

The company felt the pinch last season as wells struggled to keep up with demand and the Southern Valleys community irrigation scheme it belongs to was switched off as flow in the contributing Wairau River dropped below a trigger point.

Adam believes the company’s edge on water-efficiency is achieved by not over-watering vines from establishment, meaning they develop deep, strong root systems. Also, appropriate rootstocks are selected for light, bony soils.

Sauvignon blanc which grows a large canopy so loses more water to evapotranspiration than other varieties, is most easily stressed by inadequate water, Adam said. The flavour of wines made from less vigorous pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris and gewürztraminer benefit from lower water use.

The Marlborough District Council monitors water use by telemeter, as a condition of any new consents including those which come up for renewal. This means Adam can watch usage on each block live on the web and quickly identify any leaks.

“Spy Valley doesn’t broadcast what we are doing to the world but are genuinely committed to doing the right thing by the environment,” Bruce and Adam agree.

ISO 14001

On March 2010 Spy Valley became certified with international environmental standard ISO 14001 which identifies and controls the environmental impact of activities, products and services, improves environmental performance and sets environmental objectives and targets.

A certified organisation must have:

  • An environmental policy supported by top management
  • Environmental goals, objectives, and targets that support the policy
  • Defined roles, responsibilities, and authorities
  • An environmental management programme
  • A process for communicating environmental management systems
  • A programme for auditing and corrective action.
  • Auditing by an outsider certifier.