Yealand Carbon Zero Wine Production

July 2010

A wine industry pioneer builds a carbon zero wine label

A profile of New Zealands largest privately owned vineyard dedicated to using sustainable wine production practices.

In August 2008 in the middle of a big recession (economic storm) eccentric Marlborough mussel industry pioneer Peter Yealands launched his own wine label. Its an 80 million dollar business.

Despite growing tonnes of the stuff, Peter started drinking wine only a few years ago - and used to think a sav was something you bought at the butcher not put in a glass. These days hes been to quite a few wine tastings where he says he has to fake it.

To establish the vineyard the company bought 8 adjoining farms in the Awatere Valley, 20 minutes south of Blenheim. All up theres 1000 ha in grapes New Zealands biggest privately owned vineyard.

This area was traditional farmland and had been for years. Nowadays gaze in any direction and all you'll see is vineyard posts over half a million of them and vines.

At the peak theres 160 workers on the vineyard just doing pruning.

The area is famed for its wind that means that the region is relatively frost free.

This seems to be a big part of the selling point around the Yealands label. Theyre carbon zero (which means they buy credits from Landcare). The vineyard prunings are used to fire a boiler for hot water grape marc is used to make silage. The 7000 square metre winery has solar reflective cladding, theres stormwater collection areas, solar panels and theyre even trialling some wind turbines. All the winery tanks are individually temperature controlled, theres motion sensors to control lighting, rainwater harvested from the roof, etc.

Late last year Yealands also launched NZs first wine in plastic bottles under the Full Circle label. The bottles are 89% lighter than glass and are claimed to generate less green house gas emissions but curiously only take a tiny percentage less energy to produce. They are recyclable.

The use of sheep in the vineyard for grazing is something that has become increasingly popular in Marlborough in recent years. Its extra cash for the vineyard owners and high country farmers are getting their animals off farm and into decent tucker. Theres also the saving to the vineyard owner in weed spraying and mowing which on the Yealand vineyard must be massive.

Limiting factors are the fact that many vineyards arent fenced so that theres a bit of infrastructure that needs to go around the vines before the sheep are let in. But the biggest limitation is that once the vines start coming away again the sheep will nibble on the buds and later the grapes.

Yealands have come up with what they think is a solution to the latter problem. Theyve found a sheep breed which is supposed to be the worlds smallest variety. The Baby Doll sheep are Southdown in origin. Fully grown they only reach about 45 60 cm tall. The idea is the animals are too short to reach the bottom wire of the vineyard and therefore cant nibble into the leaves, fruit and the buds. The main problem is that there are bugger all of these sheep in the world. Theyve imported some from Oz and is looking to put them across a Saxon Merino (also quite small) to get something that he can use as vineyard grass control all year around.

Yealands reckon that they could run as many as 10,000 sheep in the vineyard and have a ready market for his meat once theyre fattened. The wool is likely to be fine and have a high lustre.

This is run by Tamra Washington a NZ born winemaker who has travelled extensively, making wine all over the world. It is said to have cost $45m with a very firm eye on coming up with ways to reduce the environmental impact of the winery process.

This is a property about 20 minutes away from the vineyard along the coast. It is managed by Graham Whitehead and runs Corriedale sheep, Angus cattle as well as a so far lucrative 250acre seed pea crop.

The following is an excerpt from a North and South Article published in 2007 :

So this was the background from which Peter launched his brazen bid for Oyster Bay Marlborough Vineyards. In May 1999 Delegat's floated a public company called Oyster Bay Marlborough Vineyards, which grows grapes in the Wairau Valley. Delegat's retained nearly a third of the company, had two seats on the five-person board and got a 20-year contract that let them buy all the grapes from the new company. In turn, OBMV agreed to pay Delegat's to manage the vineyards.

Peter started seriously buying OBMV shares last year, believing the company was underperforming. He accused Delegat's of underpaying for grapes and overcharging for vineyard management, thus screwing down profits and returns for the 700-plus shareholders.

In May this year he announced he wanted to take over the company by lifting his shareholding from six to just over 50 per cent.

What followed in the next three months was a strange battle between the bullish Peter and the indignant Delegat family fronted by managing director and founder's son, Jim Delegat's had no intention of letting an outsider snatch control and launched its own bid to take a 50 per cent share in OBMV, matching Peter from his first offer of $3.10 per share through to the eventual selling price of an extraordinary $4. It was a scarcely restrained stoush, the obvious antipathy between the two parties only sometimes disguised by pseudo-civility.

To Peter, Delegat's were flash Harrys who'd had it too good for too long and were sucking the good juice from the company.

For Delegat's, Peter was a wild card from the sticks who threatened the snug relationship between the wine maker and OBMV.

It was a classic scrap between a pugnacious provincial bloke at home in the paddocks and a silk-tie city brigade whose home was in Viaduct Harbour offices.

Appearing on TV, the seasoned Jim Delegat was confident and convincing while the nervous novice Peter shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. If Delegat was a smooth and suave chardonnay with hints of old oak, Peter was a three-litre cask of feisty rough red.

Given Delegat's reaction and much larger shareholding it was always going to be a long shot for Peter to win and so it proved. By August 9 Delegat's had the roughly 1.5 million shares it needed, at a cost of over $6 million, to end Peter' play.

But taking on the big guys was typical Peter. As one colleague put it, the only surprise was that it wasn't someone even bigger like Montana.