July 21–Barossa Valley and Renmark

Vintage vines with tap roots planted in mid 1800's requiring no-irrigation. Cover and nitrogen fixation crops planted in rows to maintain moisture and naturally fix nitrogen

23,000 litre wine storage tanks - 1 tank = 1 tanker truck load.

Oak ageing barrels and storage building

Sampling the final product

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.

–Nick

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7 responses to “July 21–Barossa Valley and Renmark

  1. Hope everyone enjoyed the trip to the wineries! Sounds pretty sustainable. Do they have waste management programs for the grapes as well?

    Any new wines on the market in the US? Banrock Station Moscato is my favorite!

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Hey. Yea the grapes left over have about three percent sugar left and people use that in distilleries to produce ethanol. Also the stems are used as mulch.

    • The Wineries were very nice. Especially in the Barossa Valley. We went to Langmeil vineyard (in german, the long mile), it is the oldest shiraz vineyard in the world. Langmeil operates a no waste winery, literally recycling every component involved in their production process. The stems are reused for fertilizer and the skins are reused for another wine product. What I liked most about Langmeil was how much pride the growers took in the quality and effort they put into their wines. Banrock was a little less impressive, simply because of the mass production.; However banrock planted many native species to offset their carbon emissions. It is amazing how most Australian companies are so concerned with their “carbon footprint”. Something you rarely hear about in the United States. All in all, it was a good day and definitely a learning experience.

  2. The remains of the grapes such as the skins are also used in livestock feed so virtually nothing goes to waste! Apparently sheep love the stuff! Pretty amazing! We all got to test the wine at Langmeil’s and we all approved of the “Live Wire”! It is a sweeter white wine and I’m not sure where it is available in the U.S but I would suggest looking into it! Thanks!

  3. Ellen Permoda

    Cheers, looks like a fun and informational day!

  4. calderonenick

    Yep, both Langmeil and Banrock Station are 100% waste free. Besides recycling waste, Banrock has also started using material use reducing light weight bottles.

  5. Although not to be a pessimist, I thought that in comparison to Langmeil that Banrock used the restoration of the wetlands to cover up the fact that its actual agricultural practices are flawed. Instead of at Langmeil where they can force the roots to grow down into the water table thereby eliminating the need for irrigation, at Banrock there is a sheet of limestone three feet underneath denying the vines access to the natural water table, thereby making them completely reliant on irrigation in an area that up until recently was under a severe drought. I thought it was an interesting case of using social sustainability to cover up a growing practice that was damaging to nature overall.

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