The New Zealand wine industry has a strong commitment to sustainable production in both vineyards and wineries, and sustainability forms a significant part of New Zealand’s message in the market at both industry-wide and individual business levels.
New Zealand is a truly new world country, being amongst the last in the world to be discovered, it has a relatively small population and a predominantly unpolluted environment. As a country New Zealand has a high level of commitment to sustainable production, as is evidenced by the fact that the greatest proportion of our electricity is produced from renewable resources.
In the early 1990’s wine industry leaders recognised that the natural resources of the country, and the industry, were of significant value and needed to be protected and where possible enhanced. The industry was undergoing rapid vineyard expansion and this growth was projected to continue for some time. Along with this expansion there was new pressure on land and water resources, accompanied with issues related to changing use of land. In many cases not only was the use of land for viticulture new, but the land managers were also new to the production of grapes and wine. It was felt that developing guidelines for sustainable viticulture would help establish and retain good practice, and would also provide a valuable education tool by which results from industry research could be transferred to producers.
The growth of the industry was primarily driven by significant increases in exports particularly to the United Kingdom, which was showing a developing interest in purchase of goods with well established environmental credentials. Industry leaders felt that taking a proactive approach towards sustainable production would meet this growing demand and assist individual companies to enhance their marketing opportunities.
In the mid -1990’s after considerable testing the industry launched a holistic vineyard programme, which has since become known as Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ). In 2002, a new module was launched to provide guidance on sustainable management of wineries.
Following wide industry consultation, in 2007 New Zealand Winegrowers (the industry body) announced a bold Sustainability Policy aimed at having all New Zealand wines being produced under independently audited environmental programmes by 2012. The Policy was intended in part to promote participation in SWNZ, but also recognised other environmental-based programmes including ISO 14001, certified organic and biodynamic production. To support voluntary adoption of this Policy, New Zealand Winegrowers has made compliance a prerequisite for participation in events they organise.
Since the Policy was announced there has been significant increase in participation in both SWNZ and organic programmes albeit starting from a smaller base. It is estimated that over 94% of the producing vineyard area is participating in SWNZ, and a further 3-5% is producing under certified organic programmes. Participation in organic production is anticipated to continue to increase over the next decade in all likelihood reaching 20% by 2020. Although it was developed more recently, the SWNZ winery programme has been adopted relatively quickly approximately 90% of the winery productive capacity is included in the programme.