The Yealands’ story started back in 2001 when Peter Yealands and his wife Violet started buying up the coastal land on the fringes of Marlborough’s Awatere Valley with a view to develop their own vineyard. The sometimes steep, dry and somewhat inhospitable area struck many as an odd place to start a vineyard, but in just a few short years Yealands has grown to one of our biggest wine producers and now Seaview is the single largest vineyard in New Zealand.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Peter Yealands, founder of Yealands Estate wines, and a chance to visit the Yealands’ Seaview vineyard. Upon our meeting I was immediately taken with Peter’s passion for the natural environment and his love for animals. Its no secret that Peter recently sold a 75% share of the business to power line company Marlborough Lines for $80,000,000 but Peter is such a ‘down to earth character’, a ‘man of the land’, that you’d hardly think he was a highly successful entrepreneur, philanthropist and multi millionaire.
Peter launched the winery with a view to making Yealands Family Estate one of the most sustainable wineries in the world. While the winery holds the mantle for being the only winery to be fully carbon zero accredited from day one, the very recent addition of the massive solar power installation is just one more step towards achieving that goal. Providing 33% of the power requirements for the winery, the solar power installation is one of the largest in New Zealand, second only to Sylvia Park Shopping Centre in Auckland and certainly the largest solar installation in any winery. Yealands’ quest to be the most sustainable winery has achieved quite a few milestones on the way, pioneering many different initiatives and leading the wine industry in practices that can only be good for the environment. Among these was being the first winery in the world to be carboNZero from inception.
“Being carboNZero accredited is a little bit like having a self imposed tax” says Peter. “Even as you get bigger and bigger you have to get more and more efficient. It is quite a challenge and if you miss that goal ultimately you will lose your accreditation and if you miss that goal, you have to buy in credits, which can be very expensive”. At around $18 a tonne at the moment to buy credits understandably it can be hugely expensive if you miss the mark, creating a lot of desire to make the business as efficient as possible.
In order to achieve their goal Peter and his team are constantly looking at new ways to become more efficient and to introduce new ways to become even more sustainable. The introduction of a flock of babydoll sheep is one example. An unadulterated, English breed at a height of just 600 mm at the shoulder, they brought them in to keep the grass down around the vines reducing the need to mow and minimising spraying Also, being so short, the sheep can’t eat the grapes. They now have the biggest flock of babydoll sheep in the world. They are also the only vineyard in the world, that Peter is aware of, that bale a percentage of their vine prunings to store and use later for heating. When they prune their vines each winter instead of mulching them up and leaving them on the ground, using a special hay baling type machine they bundle up the prunings and store them and then use it to heat their hot water. According the Peter this saves around $250,000 dollars each year. Using home grown energy where otherwise they would have to use fossil fuel. It costs money to bale the prunings, but a relatively small cost in comparison to the alternatives.
They also have one of the largest composting operations in the country. By far the biggest on any vineyard with nearly 50,000 tonnes of compost spread down the vine rows every year. The compost is made from the industry waste ‘grape marc’ – the leftovers in the winemaking process of skins and seed. They also use a lot of mussel waste, seaweed, shell and meat – a bi-product of the Greenlip mussel shell processing around the area which is “really good for the compost” maintains Peter. They also use sawdust and bark from the local sawmills and quite a bit of green matter, which is mixed together in huge piles around the vineyard and ultimately spread down the vine rows to both conserve water and add nutrition to the ground.
While sustainability may not always be the most economic way, in this day and age when people are much more conscious of what they are consuming and the impact on the environment, to have the sustainability branding can be a big advantage.
Sustainability has always been a strong point with the wine industry. Most vineyards have a sustainable accreditation but Yealands is by far the leader of the pack. It has been their ethos since day one and Peter’s ethos for most of his business life. When he got involved in the wine industry he wanted it to be a differentiating factor between him and anyone else. When he opened the winery on the 8th of August 2008 he made his first public speech after spending quite a few years in the backcountry getting close to nature. After calming his nerves with a few beers, he said to the ‘who’s-who’ of New Zealand that were invited to the opening that it was his goal, within the next five years, to have his company recognised as having the most sustainable vineyard and winery in the world, he also wanted to be in the top five producers in New Zealand and to be awarded for making the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world.
They chose the 8 August 2008 for the launch since the date was around when they were due to open anyway, but also since this was a lucky number according to Chinese philosophy – a market that they were anticipating back then would become a huge market for New Zealand wines. While New Zealand wines may not have taken off as fast in China as they were predicting, Yealands has certainly gone a long way to achieving their goals.
They won the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc in 2012 at the International Wine Awards and they have global recognition from attaining all of the high-end and the most credible sustainability awards in the world. Unfortunately they just fell just short of Peter’s goal to be in the top five producers while currently sitting at around number six. But Peter is not a man to sit back and being in the top five won’t be far off. They are expanding rapidly – even while we were there they were developing two more farms that they have acquired – with 80 hectares to the south and another 80 hectares inland on the borders of their current ‘Seaview’ vineyard being broken in for planting destined to produce wine within the next five years.
“Not resting on our laurels but not trying to take the high ground continuously, Yealands are now becoming more mentors than divas” says Peter. In five years time there won’t be any more land left so they are buying up and converting what they can around the area before it runs out.