Taking climate change seriously pays dividends
Australia’s political leaders may question the coming realities of our warming global climate, but winegrowers like Ross Hill’s James Robson are in no doubt.
Five years ago, Ross Hill became Australia’s first certified carbon neutral winery and every year they are looking at further ways they can reduce their environmental footprint. Recently, Keith Tulloch Wines in the Hunter Valley, became the second to take up the carbon neutral mantle and now James is actively pushing for more in the industry to join the fight against climate change.
“Viticulture, the growing of grapes, is more and more being described as the ‘canary in the coalmine’ for the whole of agriculture,” said James.
“Viticulture is being affected by global warming more than other parts of Agriculture — now there might be lots of people who will argue whether that is right, but we're seeing the effects very quickly.”
Winegrowers across Australia are taking the warming climate very seriously, with some already planting new varieties better suited to a warmer future.
For local vignerons it will mean taking advantage of the higher altitude growing areas around Orange, said James.
“Orange is actually one of the regions like Tasmania, southern Western Australia and southern Victoria that are going to cope with global warming the best, because it is cold,” said James. “Our next step is to plant another vineyard up the mountain here, there are varieties that we think we need to start doing up here. The red wine will… well, for a very long time, the red wine will cope in Orange where it is, but it is the white wine we need to go up the mountain for more and more.”
It was in 2008, that the Robsons transformed a former apple storage shed into the Ross Hill winery and cellar door. Since that time, they have worked to reduce their environmental impact in all facets of the business.
“My fantastic business partners, my wife and my parents, we've all decided we don't want to impact the earth through us having a business,” said James.
“So, we employed a consultancy firm called Pangolin to get us to the point of carbon neutral and we became carbon neutral from 2014/2015. And we've done that primarily though renewable energy, energy audits; we are now so energy efficient that we only pay $1600 a year in Carbon Credits —we are that close to being naturally carbon neutral!”
Installing their 38-kilowatt solar system instantly took $60,000 a year off their solar bill and energy audits have further reduced their electricity use, he said.
“Wineries are absolutely perfect for solar. We are putting so much energy back into the grid it is just not funny. We've changed all our pumps from fixed speed into variable speed, we do a thing in the wine industry called cold stabilisation and we've been able to reduce our energy output on that by 80 per cent,” said James.
“We've also looked at our water usage and changed our whole policy… we've actually reduced our water usage by about 70 per cent. Tractor hours are another area we are continually working on; we use sheep and cattle in the winter to bring the weeds down and then we also only use one herbicide for taking weeds out, so all that sort of stuff.”
Ross Hill have even sourced a light-weight glass bottle for their non-premium range of wines.
“Our premium bottles are in a premium heavy weight bottle, but all of our other bottles are a green, lightweight bottle that takes less to produce,” he said.
While James’ motivation for making Ross Hill Wine carbon neutral was his passion for environmental issues, he has been pleased by the positive impact it has had for his business, not just in electricity savings.
“The knock-on effect for our business has been extraordinary. Our fourth biggest customer is Qantas Wine and we got to them by being carbon neutral because they're carbon neutral as well,” said James.
“All the customers who come to our cellar door, when I tell them what we are doing environmentally, they are switched onto it, they're interested in it and they applaud it.”
Although he said this wasn’t always the case.
“Three years ago, five years ago when we did all this and we were taking to people about it there was always some people who were still sceptical; there's no one sceptical anymore,” he said.
“Keith Tulloch Wines in the Hunter have just this year gone carbon neutral and I would hope everyone in the wine industry will go carbon neutral. We care that people are aware of global warming and that people get involved in fixing it, because at the end of the day there is no Planet B, this is what we've got.”