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AN ENGAGED group of grapegrowers and winemakers took the opportunity to get involved in future trends in environmental management in Adelaide last week. The seventh Australian Wine Industry Environment Conference was facilitated by the South Australian Wine Industry Association (SAWIA) and staged at the Waite Campus of the University of Adelaide.

Those who attended had the opportunity to hear from – and meet – the key decision makers in this area. The theme of the one-day conference was ‘better management of the environment is just plain smart business’ and the program was divided across three topics – water, energy and adaptation.

The challenges of climate change for winemaking and grapegrowing businesses are real and Aysha Fleming, a social scientist working in the Science into Society group of the CSIRO, told those attending they need to understand the risks and develop their own approach and response.

“To address climate change you need to think long term and adapt transformation to you own specific context, looking at social factors as well as business factors,” Fleming said.

Toby Barlow, St Hallett senior winemaker, admitted there’s a lot of uncertainty around changes to the environment and what it will mean for grapegrowing and winemaking.

“How do we plan for something we really don’t know how to predict? You have to measure everything for yourself,” Barlow said. The winemaker spoke about measuring energy efficiency and developing targets for savings.

“We are flooded with data, comparisons are possible, but trying to scale data to your specific context might not be as good as measuring for yourself,” Barlow said. “Wineries are not all the same. Engage your people in measuring you energy use and develop some achievable goals that mean something to you.”

Nick Palousis, founder and CEO of 2XE – a resource-efficiency consulting business, stressed that improvements in business performance and productivity while adapting to climate change will be a continuous process.

“Don’t kid yourself that ‘we’re the lucky country and things will be okay’,” Palousis said. “These issues aren’t going away; Tony Abbott can’t charge out of the water in his budgie smugglers and fix everything.”

Andrew Kay, Wirra Wirra Vineyards managing director, offered his experience in the positive response to sustainability offering a point of difference for a wine brand.

“This is the hardest industry to differentiate yourself in. We’ve concentrated on sustainability as a driver of our winery culture, as well as our strategy, and this make us stand out from the crowd,” Kay said.

“The more people become engaged in sustainability, the more opportunities to incorporate it even into more areas of your business pop up. There’s no finish line, we grow and evolve with it.”

Conference speakers and topics:

The first session of the day focused on water and featured presentations from Tom Rooney, from Waterfind, who look at ‘water as an asset’; Andy Chambers, Seed Consulting, who presented a regional water adaptation case study; and Paul Grbin, University of Adelaide, who looked at the potential for better and cheaper winery wastewater treatment.

During the ‘energy’ session Mark Gishen, from SAWIA, spoke about the potential to reduce electricity costs with The Winery Energy Saver Toolkit; Emmanuelle Walton, Wirra Wirra, and Wayne Stehbens, Katnook Estate, presented case studies on energy savings experiences; Anna and Derek Hooper, Cape Jaffa Wines, shared their experience in energy efficiencies and environmental philanthropy; and Kyra Reznikov, Finlaysons, spoke about carbon pricing.

The afternoon’s ‘adaptation’ session featured presentations from Aysha Fleming, CSIRO, who explored the balance between business and social imperatives on adaptation; and Vic Sadras, SARDI, who looked at technical opportunities and innovations in vineyards. There were also three ‘adaptation’ case studies presented by Prue Henschke, from CA Henschke; Toby Barlow, from St Hallett; and Rohan Wighton, Treasury Wine Estates.

The final bracket of presentations for the day were themed around ‘futures’. The speakers and topics included Fraser Bell, Thomson Greer Lawyers, on water security and asset management; Nick Palousis, 2XE, on energy efficiency and business productivity; Andrew Kay, Wirra Wirra, dual benefits of sustainability to business and the environment; and Simon Whyatt, Peter Lehmann Wines, who gave the closing address based on his research into environmental management from several international perspectives.