New Zealand Winegrowers has promised to “keep raising the bar” in its sustainability efforts through a combination of fresh targets, major research programmes and a louder communication strategy.
“In the last few years we’ve decided it’s really time to step up,” said Sarah Szegota, communications manager for New Zealand Winegrowers. “The winemakers have been behind it for so long; everyone’s doing something.”
At present, the country’s generic body reports that 94% of New Zealand vineyards are certified sustainable through one of several independently audited programmes. “We’re not trying to be too prescriptive,” remarked Szegota.
Although this level falls just short of NZWG’s original target of all its wines being produced according to a sustainability programme by 2012, Szegota explained how this original focus has now evolved. “You can’t be 100% sustainable,” she conceded. “What we have to do now is to go on a path of continual improvement. We’ll keep raising the bar – I don’t think there’s an end point.”
Among the targets currently in place, Szegota highlighted a move by the Organic Winegrowers New Zealand to raise the country’s proportion of organic wine from its present level of 7% to reach 20% by 2020.
“The next thing a lot of people will focus on is the social side of sustainability,” she continued. “Our actual labour laws are quite strict so there’s never any concern that people are being treated unfairly, but we want to go over and above to make sure we’re supporting people, whether that’s training programmes or the surrounding community, which is so important.”
In addition to supporting local workers, members of Sustainable Winemaking New Zealand are now required to hold Recognised Seasonal Employer status. This government programme works with Pacific Island nations to provide seasonal labour, such as grape pickers.
While acknowledging that many wineries have been carrying out sustainable initiatives for a long time, Szegota highlighted the need to improve external communication of this work. In particular she pointed to the commercial value of these environmental credentials, which are increasingly important to buying monopolies in countries such as Sweden and Canada.
“We would encourage all wineries to include a certification logo on their wines,” commented Szegota. “I would love to see people in independent wine shops who are hand-selling New Zealand wine to say ‘and by the way, do you know this is made sustainably?’”
This communication effort extends to NZWG activities, from only pouring certified sustainable wine at its events, to incorporating a sustainability slant into press and buying trips. “It widens the net to a lifestyle audience,” added Szegota, noting: “We’re not trying to reinvent sustainability, just help explain it to consumers.”
Research also plays an important part of NZWG’s sustainability focus, in particular efforts to explore vineyard techniques that could help producers to make high quality wines at lower alcohol levels.
Referring to an £8.5 million fund secured by NZWG last year towards research into this area, she remarked: “If we’re ambitious we could position ourselves as the number one country for high quality, naturally lower alcohol wines.”