By Rob Pickard
Leading on from my recent post on sustainable winemaking methods at SAAM, here is a look at Mitchelton, from central Victoria, Australia – another producer putting investment into environmental issues within the vineyard, and leading the way down under. One area in particular in which the winery is investing heavily is its use of water, attempting to recycle and reduce consumption through water management initiatives. With many New World wineries using irrigation within the vineyard, heavy use of water within production must at some point need be addressed. With Mitchelton being based within a region that suffers from regular droughts, this is a key issue for the team.
A major addition to the winery came in 2006, when Mitchelton was selected from 4500 applicants for a $45,000 grant to upgrade its waste water treatment. In 2007, this money had gone towards the creation of a wastewater wetlands system, and by the following year its introduction had enabled the winery to recycle a massive eight million litres of water. By the beginning of this year, Mitchelton are now able to recycle a staggering 15 million litres per year! Who even knew wineries used such vast amounts of water! Mitchelton’s water recycling efforts are now having significant effects on the surrounding environment, in particular reducing the pressure put on the local Goulburn River, as well as recreating the wetland environment which has helped bring back the endangered Pobblebonk Frog to the area. A huge achievement for the team at Mitchelton – well done guys, keep up the great work.
Following the success of the waste water wetlands system, Mitchelton’s Viticulturist and Winery Manager, John Beresford, told Bibendum Times, “The 2009-10 growing season is the first year where the reed beds in the Mitchelton Wastewater Wetlands have been fully established and functioning in accordance to the desired outcomes. A fully established wetlands and eco-system is now in place following the initial construction and plant establishment phase that has taken place over the preceding three years. The wetlands are now a carnival of aquatic wildlife and bird activity, and the otherwise cool and silent spring dusks are now drowned out by the ear-piercing sounds of frogs, insects and birdlife.”
Not to be left behind in vineyard technology, Mitchelton has this year purchased and installed a new weather station to measure vital climatic parameters to determine long term weather trends, and facilitate targeted use of water in the vineyards. The weather system will aid this process by measuring several climatic indices including temperature, relative humidity, class A evaporation, rainfall, leaf wetness, plus wind speed and direction. This seriously hi-tech piece of kit enables the winery to make informed decisions on vineyard management, including disease management, irrigation scheduling and soil moisture data, all key areas that are strongly linked to water use.
Importantly these tools enable the winery to be much better informed within their irrigation decisions, resulting in a highly efficient use of water in regards to the water volume present in the soil, alongside the vines physiological requirements. Water wastage at Mitchelton is now at a bare minimum, and the team believe their use of these tools will enable irrigation inputs at Mitchelton to reduce by up to 25%.
With the use of this state of the art equipment, plus an underlying belief in more environmentally friendly and sustainable production methods in the vineyard, Mitchelton are leading the way in terms of irrigation and waste water management systems. These initiatives are really proving successful, and where irrigation is allowed in wine regions around the world, this may become the norm in the not so distant future.