Today we visited the largest wine making area in Australia, the Barossa Valley. Twenty five percent of Australia’s wine is produced here. We started the day off at Langmeil Winery.
In the late nineteenth century an event nearly prevented Langmeil Winery from becoming what it is today. Phylloxera are insects so small they are nearly invisible to the naked eye. They live off the leaves and roots of grapevines. In the 1970s these North American natives were introduced into other continents where grapevines didn’t have hundreds of years to become resistant . The effects were devastating; some experts estimate that between
2/3 and 9/10 of Europe’s vineyards were destroyed
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phylloxera). In Australia, it caused the near annihilation of Victoria’s wine industry (http://www.phylloxera.com.au/phylloxera/about/).
The vines in Langmeil Winery were lucky enough to survive and are still used today. Originally planted in 1843, Langmeil vines are thought to be the oldest Shiraz vines in the world (http://www.langmeilwinery.com.au/?p=2&h=4).
Langmeil has a great plot of land for wine growing. This is because the water table is a mere two meters below ground level. It is so easily accessible for grapevines that, when cultivating a new vineyard, irrigation is only needed for the first two years to get the plants established. After that, the natural area supplies all of the plant’s water needs.
Langmeil has taken great initiative to preserve the health of the water system of the Barossa Valley. Eight-hundred feet of the winery borders the North Para River. Non-native high water requiring trees like ash and willow growing on the banks of the river were pulled out and over 1,200 native plants were planted to restore the river to its natural state. In addition to slashing the amount of water drawn out of the river, the combined effort of these plants helps to offset the carbon emissions of the winery. To lessen their water usage, Langmeil recently installed two 250,000 rainwater tanks making the winery 80% more water sustainable. Also, two large solar hot water units have been added
which supply all of the complexes hot water demands. Used water is also reused by another winery just down the street. Taking these things into account, Langmeil is almost water neutral.
Water conservation and awareness is a national issue and it has been a motif in my experience in Australia. Not only are most people I have come into contact with aware and educated about water limits, they are also taking upon themselves the work of doing something about it. An earlier example of this is the public’s ability to keep performing water conservation practices to about the same level as were required by the strict scarce water policies even after the policies were lifted. I believe that if there is going to be a change to become sustainable, it must start at the level of the individual. Adelaide and Langmeil have thoroughly surprised be in their support of this way of thinking.
In the words of our tour guide, “The Barossa Valley is wine country.” Surrounding Langmeil is thousands of hectares of vineyards and hundreds of years of wine making history. Recently, a plot of grapevines over one-hundred years old were fast tracked to be bulldozed and built on when Langmeil caught wind. Langmeil decided to transplant these vines to their property. Using a couple of machines resembling tree spades, they were able to transplant the mature vines with limited damage to the root systems. These are now fully established and thriving on Langmeil’s land. With all this talk of ecosystem and resource conservation, it may be easy to overlook sustaining local culture. Langmeil has helped in the cultural conservation of this historic and memorable place.
The second place we visited was Banrock Station Winery. Banrock station donates a portion of every wine sold to conservation projects around the world. Their funding goes to projects in the U.S., Canada, UK, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, and at home in Australia. Some of their more noticeable projects include monitoring changes in polar bear behavior due to climate change in Norway, the reintroduction of otters into regenerated habitats in the Netherlands, and water conservation in arid Australia.
At home, on Banrock’s Station, they have used sustainable practices that take into account the environment they are in. The sun gets very hot and is efficient at drying out the surface layer of soil. To prevent the unneeded loss of water, Banrock uses sub-level irrigation. When watered at this deeper level, water is less likely to evaporate into the atmosphere, allowing more water for the crop. Banrock Station’s building is made of material found locally. Material from the grounds were rammed into rectangle molds to make the large bricks used in construction. These wineries were great examples of how businesses are taking initiative in sustainable practices. With the goal of being sustainable in mind it will take the effort of individuals, businesses, and governing bodies to conserve natural ecosystems and local culture while being successful in a world economy.