SUSTAINABILITY  JOURNEY

 WRITTEN BY: NATASHA KILLEEN

I remember several years ago feeling powerless and uneasy each time climate change or issues of sustainability were mentioned on the news, at industry forums or around the dinner table. For some time, I put my head in the sand thinking it was all too hard and how could we ever make a difference to such a big challenge?

Slowly over several years, I was introduced to some great leaders in sustainability who made things seem less overwhelming and much more achievable. Making a few improvements to how we did things started a snowball effect of growing confidence and commitment to leaving our patch of Rutherglen better than how we found it. We now have a Sustainability Plan and are philosophically connected to making genuine change.

Stanton & Killeen still have a long way to go but some of the results are now tangible and encouraging. We are members of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia* and are in the process of the vineyard and winery becoming certified. I thought I would share with you some of the areas we are focusing on:

ENERGY & FUEL CONSUMPTION

In 2019, we applied for a grant through Agriculture Victoria to help reduce our carbon footprint. The program gave us access to an energy audit with an engineer who assessed many ways for us to improve our energy efficiency, and helped us choose two projects to put forward for the grant submission. We were extremely excited to be awarded a partial rebate for installing a 54kw solar system and insulating the large northern wall of our barrel hall.

The audit determined that 63% of our energy consumption comes from our glycol chiller (which cools the barrel hall, our wine tanks and fermenters) and the next highest consumer was our irrigation pump at 13%. By covering the external northern wall of the hall, it reduces the heat load ensuring the chiller doesn’t have to use as much energy to cool the space and prolonging the life of the unit (avoiding landfill). The insulation also gave the added benefits of a) slowing down the rate of evaporation of the wine in the barrel which increases quality, and b) decreasing fuel use of the forklift which was removing the barrels more often than desired to ‘top up’ the barrels.

The analysis of our energy usage showed that we would be the perfect solar client. We use most of our electricity during the hottest part of the day in the hottest part of the year (January- April for irrigating the vineyard and the heavy use of the chiller unit during vintage). Both projects were only completed this year in September, so we are excited to see our reduced carbon footprint this coming vintage. In time, we would love to invest in batteries to help store our excess power generation and to mitigate the increasing issue of power outages.

WATER MANAGEMENT

Fresh water is by far the most important resource on this planet. Humans and our environment cannot survive without it so preserving this precious asset is vital. The last 18 months have been pretty wet in our region however I know that it’s only a matter of time before we are in the next drought. Irrigated agriculture in Australia uses 60% of the available water for human consumption (https://www.awe.gov.au/water/policy/water-for-food) and without getting into the very hot topic of Australia’s water policy, I believe one of the easiest things that the agriculture industry can do to be more sustainable is to match the crop to the area.

For Stanton & Killeen, this means planting varieties suited to our warm and dry climate. My dad, Chris Killeen, planted red Portuguese varieties in 1992 because he loved the flavour of Portuguese Port and wanted to make his own Australian version; however an unexpected advantage was that these varieties are so climatically resilient and well-adapted to our property. This informed our decision to plant three white Portuguese varieties to ensure S&K could offer flavoursome, refreshing white wine over the coming decades.

Rutherglen’s famous Muscats and Topaques are another great example of matching the right crop to the area – these varieties love to ripen over many warm, dry months and produce fortified wines of unsurpassed excellence. These varieties have been in the region since the late 1800s so perhaps it was an early example of sustainability in Rutherglen!

Even though we have the luxury of access to irrigation infrastructure and water from the Murray River, we aim to use this resource sparingly. We have been replacing our dripper lines with more efficient materials, installing the latest water-saving technology as well as reviewing the integrity of our dam wall lining to prevent leakage. Starting off small and then aiming for the entire property, we will apply mulch to base of the vines and have constant cover crops to preserve soil moisture. Healthy, moist soil means top quality fruit – it’s not just about water but also about the biodiversity on a micro level.

BIODIVERSITY

Increasing the diversity of microorganisms, attracting beneficial insects and birdlife and improving the range of species of flora are some very tangible and visually appealing improvements to properties. It’s also very achievable at home whether you have a small balcony for some pots, a large garden or even a footpath verge in your street. This is one area that I am most excited about as there are multiple benefits – it’s good for the environment, it’s good for the quality of our wine and it’s good for the community. The degradation of the and can be improved but the loss of Australia’s native species cannot be reversed.

Some of Stanton & Killeen’s commitment to increasing biodiversity on our 365 acres includes:

• fencing off remnant bushland to lock out livestock and promote that growth of native grasses,

• planting shelterbelts and paddock trees to provide habitat for native fauna and protect livestock and ground covers from the elements, plant ‘insectariums’ of appealing flowering native shrubs near our vineyards to attract beneficial insects, bugs and birds to eat the pests, thus reducing our reliance on chemical sprays

• stay involved with local initiatives to provide habitat to two critically endangered species of birds that migrate through our area – the Regent Honeyeater and the Swift Parrot

• Regenerate our dams and capture water runoff using guidance from the Sustainable Farms organisation to create a thriving environment that not only provides clean water for our stock but supports wildlife and biodiversity

This is just a short list of the projects we have on the go however everyone can contribute to biodiversity – even if it’s just one pot of a nectar-giving plant to help the dwindling native bee population.

WASTE MANAGEMENT

Although we all love a delicious glass of wine, the product produces a fair amount of waste. Consequently, our waste management is a high priority on my radar. There are a few trail-blazing wineries that I’m following who have come really close to the ideal winery operation, however there is still one product out there that pips people at the post – plastic. So much arrives at wineries wrapped in plastic – our pallets of bottles, boxes of caps and labels, equipment and additives used in the winery, food to be served in cellar door, administration items, I could go on and on.

We separate our soft plastics which are processed by Cleanaway however the higher goal is to reduce our consumption in the first place. Suppliers are now getting pressure from consumers to find alternatives to plastic. This may mean investment in technology and an increase in the price of goods, however the positive impact is greater than cost. We are looking at alternative packaging options for some products like our bulk fortifieds (currently sold in 5L plastic drums) or future wine products not yet released.

Although still an emerging area, I am really interested in the developments in canned and boxed wine. Don’t worry, we’re not getting rid of traditional glass, but I think it’s important to look at more sustainable options and be open to ideas. Remember when a sign of a good wine was a really thick, heavy bottle? Well there is a big push against this in the industry due to the carbon emissions of producing the bottle, flying it around the world and then the cost of recycling it.

Making wine also uses copious amounts of water during vintage in the form of cleaning. Everything needs to be cleaned within an inch of its life to avoid spoilage of the wine from bacteria. We are looking at ways to naturally treat our wastewater so that it can be utilised on dry areas of the property. In one of the training sessions with Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, they gave an example where a series of channels were created for the wastewater to flow through rocks and reeds, becoming naturally clean before arriving in a settling pond. The sign of a healthy system is if you could hear frogs croaking in the dam and if you wouldn't mind taking a dip!

While we have done a fairly good job of removing the harshest of chemicals from the property, even small amounts of chemicals can remain in ground water and soil for many years from wastewater or runoff. Are there chemicals that you use in everyday life that could be swapped for something more natural or avoided all together?

CHEMICAL USE

Ultimately, we are aiming for Stanton & Killeen to one day become organic. The pathway through Sustainable Winegrowing Australia will ensure that the improvements we make in order to be certified sustainable means that going fully organic will be within easy reach. After extensive research, I have discovered that the main reason that businesses don’t become fully certified are the restrictions around chemical use. Thankfully, there are some alternatives on the market now that are biologically safe and non-toxic. Industry investment in this area is increasing so potentially there’ll be excellent improvements in this area over the next decade as more and more people choose sustainable over traditional methods.

Unfortunately, all agriculture is dependant on the weather and external environmental challenges are often beyond our control. This is the game of chance that we all play if we want to make a living from the land. Some examples for wine might be an increase in botrytis disease on the grapes from unseasonal autumn downpours or a plague of caterpillars stripping the vine leaves right before harvest (this happened to Rutherglen this year!). Both of these examples can seriously impact of the viability of the crop and both can be solved with chemical use.

Really good property and environmental management is the ultimately the benchmark of quality. However, the key is to understanding the bigger, interconnected picture. It’s not enough to treat just one thing, i.e. spray that unwanted pest, apply a chemical to kill that weed. Serious issues such as salinity or lack of biodiversity are often signs of multiple factors or multiple years of poor practice. Sustainability is the whole picture that includes all of the elements: human, environmental and economic.

THE BIG PICTURE

If you have read this far, I am seriously impressed. Thank you for taking the time to read about our journey and perhaps think about some of the small ways you can contribute too. Stanton & Killeen is by no means gold standard but at least we are committed to improving our practices everyday. Every individual has the power to make positive change, no matter how small. It might be something as simple as reducing your food waste, making conscious decisions about what products you buy or improving the energy efficiency of your home. We look forward to updating you on our progress of our sustainability journey.

*Sustainable Winegrowing Australia is a collaboration between The Australian Wine Research Institute, Wine Australia and Australian Grape & Wine