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Peter Yealands' green awakenings

Moving to picturesque opened winemaker Peter Yealands' eyes.
peter yealands green awakenings

Wine honcho, entrepreneur and Rich Lister Peter Yealands has built up a business based on its sustainability cred, but he wasn’t always such a greenie.

“When I was young, I didn’t have any regard for the environment at all. I was a bit of a taker. But that was pretty common in those days. There was generally not a lot of thought for the environment or for sustainability.”

Back then, the green types were seen as radicals, but today sustainability is part of the mainstream. His ‘greenie comeabout’ was a gradual progression, but he says it really took off for him after buying property in the Marlborough Sounds. That put him bang smack in the middle of a veritable wilderness, with deer, sheep, tuis, bellbirds and all manner of native fauna on his doorstep.

“It was absolutely incredible,” Yealands says.

He recounts one particular incident that really hit home.

“I would help my wife do the dishes and I was sitting there with a teatowel drying dishes wondering when they would ever end. And there was a tree where the birds used to come and get the nectar out of the flowers. After a while they get used to you – they’d come over and be cheeky.

“I said to my wife ‘when these flowers go why don’t we hang a salmon tin of honey and water so they have something else as additional food?’ It only took a couple of days and birds were drinking this artificial nectar. Within no time at all that tin got emptied. They would come over, sit on windowsill and peck on the window to let us know that tin was empty. It gives you an idea of the level of intelligence of the wee birds.”

Now, he says, there’s nobody in Marlborough that’s planted more trees than he has, and his wine label has gained global recognition for its green practices.

“Since I’ve been in viticulture I wanted to make all of my developments attractive – a nice place to be, to look at, to work. It’s just part of my ethos. So all of my vineyards that I’ve developed always had wetlands wherever possible and lots of lots of planting. Last year I probably put in 200,000-plus shrubs.”

His Marlborough winery was carboNZero certified in 2009 and is the largest winery in New Zealand to achieve it. He takes a lot of pride in that, although it set the bar high for the future. He says carboNZero is all about demonstrating improvement going forward, and Yealands began from a reasonably lean, green starting point.

“It’s quite easy if you’ve got a whole lot of fat to start with,” he says.

Sustainable practices include using recycled glass and cardboard in packaging, solar-reflective, high insulation cladding, solar panels and wind turbines, rainwater harvesting and onsite wastewater treatment and reuse.

For Yealands, the standout is the fact that the winery burns its vine prunings using a special imported boiler.

“EECA helped fund that. They said that would probably be the best project they’ve ever funded. Prior to that we used LPG.”

Another pet initiative is running sheep through part of the vineyard; he hopes to have them grazing over the whole area in the future.

“It’s extremely sustainable and sensible. It’s eliminated the need to mow, spray weeds, leaf pick, bud rub.”

Yealands also composts all of its winery waste, including grape skins and seeds, for mulch. He has a permit to harvest seaweed off the beach, and he mixes that into the compost with bark and wood waste and lime.

“We run that down the vine rows and on all of our trees. There’s nothing more rewarding than going out and digging a hole and finding it full of worms,” he says. “Anyone who gets into sustainability finds it does have its payback.”

For some initiatives that could be just a couple of years, while others might take closer to a decade to pay off. But the biggest reward is the self-satisfaction knowing you are doing the best you can.

“We just strive to capture everything that’s going to make us a more sustainable operation.”

He won’t be drawn on what we can expect to see in the future but says he has a couple of ideas up his sleeve.

“I’ve got a few things on the drawing board,” he says, adding that he drives his winemakers crazy with his constant brainwaves.

That said, nobody’s resigned yet, so Yealands reckons he’s doing all right.