Marl­bor­ough’s wineries are grap­pling with a se­ri­ous waste is­sue.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By Michael Cooper

Marl­bor­ough’s wineries are grap­pling with a se­ri­ous waste is­sue.

The im­agery sur­round­ing New Zealand wine is in­vari­ably pos­i­tive. The coun­try is pro­moted over­seas as “100% pure” and al­most all the wine is made un­der the in­dus­try’s sus­tain­able wine­grow­ing pro­gramme. Yealands Es­tate, a pro­ducer that has won many en­vi­ron­men­tal awards, even aims “to leave the land bet­ter than we found it”.

How­ever, in 2016, Peter Jer­ram, then chair of the Marl­bor­ough District Coun­cil’s en­vi­ron­ment com­mit­tee, said the in­dus­try was “prob­a­bly about where the dairy in­dus­try was 10 years ago”. Clear signs of the coun­cil’s dis­sat­is­fac­tion sur­faced in the Marl­bor­ough Ex­press in late 2016. “The coun­cil is tired of tak­ing the heat for en­vi­ron­men­tal fail­ings in Marl­bor­ough’s wine in­dus­try, the mayor [Alis­tair Sow­man] says. Sixty-five per cent of wineries had one or more se­ri­ous breaches of en­vi­ron­men­tal rules this year in how they dealt with grape waste prod­uct.”

In what it called “a last re­sort” ac­tion, in De­cem­ber 2016, the coun­cil pros­e­cuted five in­di­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies – notably Yealands and Babich – for of­fences un­der the Re­source Man­age­ment Act.

The heart of the prob­lem is how each pro­ducer dis­poses of its grape “marc”. Ac­count­ing for 20% of the to­tal ton­nage of grapes har­vested, the marc is a solid waste prod­uct, com­posed of skins, stems, seeds and pulp. Com­post­ing or dis­till­ing are the age-old meth­ods of marc dis­posal, but faulty stor­age prac­tices in Marl­bor­ough have caused prob­lems with leachate – liq­uid run-off from stored or com­post­ing grape marc, which is dam­ag­ing lo­cal wa­ter­ways.

GrowCo, a com­pany owned by Peter Yealands’ daugh­ter, Danielle, and son, Aaron, was given re­source con­sent last year to build a huge fa­cil­ity with the ca­pac­ity to process most of the re­gion’s grape marc. GrowCo’s plan was to take each pro­ducer’s marc, turn it into com­post and sell it back to them.

Many pro­duc­ers saw GrowCo as an ideal so­lu­tion to the spi­ralling marc prob­lem. But this year, GrowCo told clients it had ex­pe­ri­enced nu­mer­ous com­pli­ance is­sues and would not take marc in 2019. Ac­cord­ing to Wine­press, the re­gion’s wine mag­a­zine, the coun­cil and wineries are now grap­pling “with the rug be­ing pulled out from un­der them in the lead-up to vin­tage 2019”.

by Michael Cooper

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