Peter Yealands fined $18k after grape marc incident in 2016

Peter Yealands, the founder and former owner of Yealands Wine, has been fined NZ$18,000 after an attempt to recycle grape marc in 2016 backfired, polluting a nearby stream and surrounding land.

In a notice published on 30 April by the Marlborough District Council, it was confirmed that Yealands had been sentenced on 14 March and fined NZ$5,000 and ordered to pay reparation of $12,983.25.

Yealands pleaded guilty to the charge at the Environment Court in Blenheim in December 2018, relating to an incident in 2016.

During the 2016 grape harvest, around 5,000 tonnes of grape marc, deposited in a pit by Yealands, began to leach out into the surrounding waterway and land.

Grape marc, or pomace, is the solid remains of grapes, including the skins, seeds and pulp that are leftover after pressing. The substance which leaches out is high in nitrates, sodium and chloride, which can disrupt the natural chemical balance and pollute the surrounding area.

The Marlborough District Council received a complaint about the incident and upon inspection, found that a black, sticky substance had leached into the Sixteen Valley Stream, burning grass and leading to the development of a black fungus.

Yealands, together with Marlborough-based company GrowCo, owned by his son Aaron, had planned to take delivery of 20,000 tonnes of marc in order to convert it into animal feed. However, with rain causing harvest to be moved forward that year, Yealands had not made adequate preparations before the delivery, and 5,000 tonnes of pomace was placed in a pit.

The walls of the pit were not lined, leading the substance to leach out into the surrounding land.

As reported by Stuff, crown prosecutor Jackson Webber said in December the level of Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) (a measurement of organic waste) recorded in the stream following the incident was “considerably higher than the range of raw sewage”.

A total of six charges were given to both Yealands and GrowCo, but five were subsequently withdrawn.

According to Stuff, GrowCo was granted planning permission in 2017 to build a 1.6-hectare storage facility for grape marc, complete with a dam which has the capacity to hold 20,000 cubic metres of the waste product. After building the structure, in January 2018, the company applied for consent to start a grape marc composting operation in an effort to deal with the rising quantities of the waste substance from the Marlborough region.

Marlborough produces around 70,000 tonnes of grape marc each year. A team of scientists from New Zealand’s Massey University are currently researching ways in which the reuse and repurpose the substance.

Yealands is not the only New Zealander to be caught out in the handling of grape marc.

In December last year, Marlborough-based Babich Wines avoided conviction of two charges of pollution after showing “extraordinary remorse”.

Babich Wines had installed a new grape marc pad in 2016 that was designed to store 100 tons of skins, seeds and stems left over from each harvest.

However, it was later found to be inadequate after it leaked into the ground, contaminating wells that provided neighbouring residences with clean drinking water.

Three of the six households affected complained to the Marlborough District Council of foul tasting water, rotten egg odour pervading through their homes and slime in their water tanks.

CEO David Babich had met with the affected households at a restorative justice meeting in August 2018, along with the company’s chairman George Green, where they agreed to get rid of the pad, pay the neighbours expenses of NZ$4485.95 and arrange a workshop on grape marc management to educate the region’s industry.

Yealands’ fine does not relate to a separate incident in which he and the Yealands Wine Estate were fined NZ$400,000 after pleading guilty to five charges relating to the addition of sugar to wines destined for sale in the EU market.

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