Sustainable viniculture – whats all the fuss

Sustainable viniculture – whats all the fuss

This Month our feature winery is Vidal Estate, who were a founding member of the ‘Living Wine Group’ and a member of Sustainable Wine growing New Zealand (SWNZ).  So why is this important ?  Is sustainability just a buzz word that cannot be defined and is just thrown around ?

The goal for wine growers who want to work healthily is to produce the best quality grapes that require the least amount of intervention in the winery.  This, however, is easier said than done and has an economic cost.

The chief villains in the vineyard that have in recent times been controlled chemically are:-

  1. Fungal diseases – mildew and botrytis. To control these it is almost impossible without spraying the vineyard with some chemicals. Even organic vineyards need to resort to the traditional chemicals, copper and sulphur sprays.
  2. Insects – Insects can destroy a crop if not controlled.
  3. Fertilization – Grape vines are a living thing and despite their ability to survive in arid and poor soils, they do require nutrients to survive. As they grow each new crop of grapes they take more from the soil and these nutrients require replacing.  This can be in the way of chemical fertilizer or companion planting and composting.
  4. Weeds – Biodiversity in planting is great but this can lead to generation of weeds. Weeds have to be controlled either manually or with chemicals

Vineyards managers who are looking to grow grapes naturally requires targeting any problems with as natural a solution as possible.  This being the case  shouldn’t all vineyards be switching to organics or the more extreme biodynamics, as these practises should result in better grape quality and less residual chemicals in wines!  The answer is that this, as will all farming,  only occur in a few specialist places due to the financial commitment needed by the grower.   This issue is $$.   It costs more to use less chemicals and therefore makes the end product dearer and this is not always something the consumer will pay for.   Growers will switch to organics because of their fundamental belief and a strong personal conviction in the benefits to the product that they are growing.


The intermediate answer is moving to a more sustainable farming regime.  Sustainable farming is working in a way that leaves the ground in the same condition at the end of  harvest as it was at the start. While some will complete their journey by becoming organic or biodynamic others will go part of the way.   While it is easy in some markets to claim to be a sustainable farm, in some countries the term “sustainable wine growing” has been defined and winegrowers are becoming certified.  Beginning in 1995, New Zealand has achieved outstanding results and has led the way and Sustainable Wine growing.


SWNZ has been a great success and its member wineries have seen 5 main benefits:-

  1. 2,500 ha set aside for Biodiversity, allows biological control of pests, diseases and weeds
    1. Almost not residual herbicide use
    2. Greatly reduced insecticide use
  2. 99% of vineyards used non-chemical controls as part of their pest and disease strategy
  3. Significant investment in organic-based research into botrytis control
  4. Optimised water conservation.
  5. Use of Inter-row vegetation – leading to greater soil health


A side benefit is that this has shown growers that growing organically is not difficult and vineyards in Central Otago have a goal of becoming organic.

Here in Australia there is no organised programs certifying vineyards and it is the belief/ business plans of individual wineries that determine how they act.  From what we have seen one of the issues is that a lot of our wineries are owned by large corporations and at this stage the investment returns are their driving motivations.