Premium Producers

Villa Maria, Korure and Greenlea are doing it right

- Words Belinda Nash

A toast to organics

More than two decades ago Sir George Fistonich’s nephew Fabian placed a challenge at the Villa Maria founder’s feet: to take its winemaking organic. Sir George agreed, because it was the right thing to do. But it required more than simply letting the vineyard adapt on its own.

“We had to really innovate, use new techniques and technology to do it better,” says Karen Titulaer, Villa Maria head of sustainabi­lity. “It’s actually been a massive journey for the viticultur­e team. It’s taken us 20 years of learning,” she says as the 60-year-old winery celebrates launching its first fully organic range, EarthGarde­n.

The range includes a Hawke’s Bay rosé, a merlot cabernet sauvignon, a Marlboroug­h sauvignon blanc and a pinot noir.

“The winemakers love it because they’re making wine that really reflects the land the grapes are grown on and has that distinctiv­e flavour.”

With a Villa Maria wine purchased every three seconds in the United Kingdom, the challenge was in producing huge volumes of quality grapes using organic methods.

“EarthGarde­n is so important because we want to show that organics can work,” says Titulaer, acknowledg­ing “it costs us more to produce so we need to show that as humans we value the quality of the product enough to pay for it”.

Around a third of Villa Maria’s owned vineyards are under organic management, with a goal to be 100 per cent organic within a decade. Success has come by planting wildflower­s and cover crops between vine rows, as much as two tonnes of seeds per year.

“What we did with wildflower­s and cover crops worked well,” says Titulaer. “Things like lucerne and red clover enhance the soil and make nitrogen accessible for the grape vines.”

Titulaer says that by partnering with and gaining certificat­ion from organic experts BioGro, consumers can have confidence in Villa Maria’s organic accreditat­ion, with the winemakers and viticultur­ists gaining access to the most advanced advice.

“Organics is about promoting that natural resilience within the vineyard. The aim is to get the vines to develop deep, good, strong root systems so that they are able to draw the nutrients and the water out, and they’re not so reliant on our pampering.”

Understand­ing that soil health is critical to biodiversi­ty, Villa Maria invested in three worm farms at its Auckland winery. They’re fed with food waste and cardboard to create worm ‘tea’ made from worm excretions “that seed good bacteria in the soil”, adds Titulaer.

“The payback’s been bigger than what we thought in terms of, we don’t need to bring in the seaweed fertiliser anymore, which means we’re avoiding bringing things onto the site and we’re reusing the waste that was onsite.”

As founding members of Sustainabl­e Winegrowin­g New Zealand since 1995 and active members of Organic Winegrower­s NZ and The Packaging Forum, Villa Maria’s commitment to sustainabi­lity and carbon

“What we did with wildflower­s worked really well. Things like lucerne and red clover really enhance the soil and make nitrogen accessible for the grape vines.” Karen Titulaer, Villa Maria head of sustainabi­lity

emissions reduction extends to its supply chain. Every element of its packaging including caps, seals, labels, bottles and boxes is sourced within 22 kilometres of its Auckland Estate which reduces carbon emissions, something they have been measuring for more than a decade.

“Our bottles are around an average of 69 percent recycled glass,” adds Titulaer, which requires less energy to produce. “That’s a big thing for us.” Titulaer, who is also chair of the Glass Packaging Forum, adds that measuring and innovating to reduce emissions has paid off. By working with local glass manufactur­ers, Villa Maria has reduced its bottle weight from 500 grams to 417 grams, with each step collective­ly reducing its carbon emissions by 39 percent per bottle of wine.

The Villa Maria team are excited that 20 years of hard work has culminated in EarthGarde­n. “It’s a real validation of their hard work,” says Titulaer. “We’re already seeing a great response to the wines from our customers around the world.”

Change for good

Kōrure, meaning to change direction, is a Kiwi business on a mission to change people’s health for the better with its range of green-lipped mussel supplement­s and topical creams.

At its helm is 25-year-old charismati­c entreprene­ur Ron Park, who has taken mussel powder since childhood.

“My mum always made sure we had a healthy diet and supplement­s, so I’m all for it.”

Park, who emigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand from Korea aged 8, was inspired to investigat­e mussel oil after being asked by family there to send them New Zealand fish oil supplement­s. However during his research (and while studying accounting at Canterbury University), he was shocked to find that poor quality ingredient­s were being sold to New Zealand, repackaged and branded ‘New Zealand made’ and sold globally. So Park created his own.

Now shipped worldwide, Park backs Kōrure products because of its ingredient provenance, state-of-the-art processing, molecular science and innovative sustainabl­e packaging.

“I know the farmers and every aspect of the products, from processing to packaging”.

Kōrure products contain lipid oil extracted from sustainabl­e New Zealand

green-lipped mussels, and contain 30 essential fatty acids including unique omega 3 called ETA along with EPA and DHA, vital for optimal body function, which humans can’t produce.

Mussels have been eaten by Māori for health for centuries and researched for anti-inflammato­ry properties, joint and arthritis care in particular, since the 1970s.

“Omega 3 comes from the algae mussels ingest and Banks Peninsula waters have very high levels of algae compared to anywhere in New Zealand or the world, says Park.

“Its mussels grow faster, maturing in one year, and have extremely high levels of omega 3.”

Unique extraction technology ensures Kōrure phospholip­id oil is high quality, consistent and effective.

“We transport our mussels straight from farm to factory and freeze dry them live at -40°C to retain the nutrients because heat destroys omega 3. They’re

“Omega 3 comes from the algae mussels ingest and Banks Peninsula waters have very high levels of algae compared to anywhere in New Zealand or the world.” Ron Park, Kōrure

then processed through a Supercriti­cal CO2 Extraction to extract the oil.”

He says the result is “super, super potent” omega 3 oil, backed by science.

“One study shows in terms of antiinflam­mation and joint health, our mussel oil is 100 times stronger than fish oil, 125 times more concentrat­ed than eating a fresh mussel, and more than 1000 times stronger than primrose and flaxseed oils. Essentiall­y, you’re having the mussels live and getting all the nutrients from them.”

Kōrure is one of the first Kiwi companies adopting refillable supplement­s which combines customer convenienc­e with Park’s unwavering commitment to planet earth.

“The environmen­t is everything to us. We say, let’s reduce plastic by having a refillable jar and with compostabl­e pouches instead of buying plastic bottles every time,” he says.

Along with donating money to Whale & Dolphin Conservati­on, Kōrure is the first company in Australasi­a to create sustainabl­e packaging as part of the 4R EARTH Project.

“We helped create mycelium tray packaging made from mushroom roots, which is combined with hemp and wood by-products to create the shape which keeps the products safe, and composts in the garden within 30 days, turning into fertiliser.”

Kōrure also gives customers soil tablets and seeds with the packaging that grow into the mycelium tray. Once sprouted they can be planted, which he says happily “completes the circular ecosystem”.

Kōrure also produces topical creams that reduce inflammati­on and soothe muscles and joints “without the stink”, which Park formulated in partnershi­p with Canterbury University.

“We used the molecular science of each ingredient to look at what gets absorbed into the bloodstrea­m through the skin,” Park adds.

“Many products hide pain with chemicals without actually doing anything good. We wanted to help at the root, so we’ve added ingredient­s like turmeric, green lipped mussels, glucosamin­e, chondroiti­n, winter green and manuka oils, that can be absorbed through the skin and actually help soothe inflammati­on.”

Tonic for life

One of the world’s most ancient foods has been given a 21st century makeover and it may be just the healthy tonic Kiwis have been seeking.

Alongside popular wellness beverages like kombucha, from May 2021 shoppers can add bone broth tonic to their trolley.

Bone broth tonics have taken off in the United States, led by health devotees in California, creating an industry projected to be worth US$600 million by the end of 2021.

Aotearoa New Zealand sustainabl­e food producer of 30 years Greenlea, based in the Waikato, is excited to bring this new wellbeing support to Kiwi consumers under the brand Restore Whole Foods.

Greenlea business developmen­t manager Julie McDade says its bone broth is a beverage and altogether different from soup stock.

“We’ve been boiling up bones to make soups and beverages since caveman days,” she says. “It’s an ancient product and process.”

McDade quotes In Defense of Food author Michael Pollan, who famously said, “Don’t eat anything your greatgrand­mother wouldn’t recognise as food” as a reminder of the importance of consuming real food.

“Our bone broth tonics are special products, very simple and very natural. They’re just bones, water, with apple cider vinegar used to draw the goodness out of the bones and marrow, and salt and pepper.”

Greenlea launches its range with three varieties, each comprising up to 97 percent chicken or beef bone broth.

The range includes Forever Beautiful, a beef tonic boasting high levels of collagen, the building block protein associated with bone, skin, muscle, tendon and ligament strength and vitality; and two chicken varieties, Super Defence, with ingredient­s including vitamin C from lemon juice, turmeric, ginger and manuka honey to boost the immune system, and Active Vitality, aimed to enhance energy and performanc­e.

McDade says consumers have flocked to bone broth tonic bars in US supermarke­ts. “Instead of getting a coffee while you do your grocery shopping, you get a bone broth tonic.”

While McDade acknowledg­es people can make bone broth, she says few want broth simmering in their oven for two days, adding with a laugh, “it smells a bit meaty”.

“Even for us creating broth on a commercial scale, the chicken takes 24 hours and the beef takes two days.”

The bone broth range is an extension of Greenlea’s vision to create a better world. McDade says using the whole animal is important to the company’s

“Our bone broth tonics are special products, very simple and very natural. They’re just bones, water, with apple cider vinegar used to draw the goodness out of the bones and marrow, and salt and pepper.”

Julie McDade, Greenlea business developmen­t manager

sustainabi­lity vision where nothing is wasted. She adds that the company went all in when it created its sustainabi­lity framework in 2019 and detailed carbon footprint model – from processing to air travel.

“In today’s world it’s not enough to have a few sentences on sustainabi­lity so we identified key pillars around people and communitie­s, environmen­tal stewardshi­p, and product quality, safety and integrity. Under each pillar we identified focus areas and targets and we’ve now started measuring against all those focus areas and targets.”

Greenlea is an active member of the New Zealand Roundtable for Sustainabl­e Beef and part of a group that created a proof of concept to produce verified sustainabl­e beef, supported by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

In her own life, McDade swears by drinking bone broth to ease an upset tummy, saying “it always sorts me out”.

“When I grew up, every time I was sick my mother would make me clear chicken broth, and maybe it’s anecdotal but it always made me feel better,” she says with a laugh.

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