Rutherglen winery Stanton & Killeen was a feature winery in the 2022 Sustainable Winegrowing Australia Impact Report, due to its innovative sustainable practices.

National Liquor News spoke to General Manager Natasha Killeen about what sustainability looks like at the winery.

NLN: What is Stanton & Killeen doing to ensure sustainability?

NK: We’ve made our 2025 Sustainability Action Plan a core part of our business. Overall, this plan is helping key behavioural changes become second nature especially around waste management, water preservation, energy efficiency and biodiversity.

Some of the most sustainable things we’ve achieved this year haven’t been big ticket items like solar or new winery insulation, rather it has been small incremental changes that have made a huge difference. They aren’t especially glamourous or exciting, however over the working week at S&K these collective changes are having a great impact.

Our waste focus for 2023 has been looking at items lying around the farm and how to give them new life. For example, Scott and Marie are building a greenhouse/outdoor work area using materials we already have and are fixing up old trailers once destined for scrap metal. We donated our old broken fruit bins and pallets to the Rutherglen Men’s Shed – they will repurpose them into projects like veggie beds or cubby houses, or break them down into kindling which is sold locally. This year, I’m really excited about using our old rusty gates and fencing to create new biodiversity habitats, especially around our dams and remnant vegetation.

Our land and soil and biodiversity projects are getting attention this year with cover cropping, undervine straw mulching and establishing native insectariums (as well as enhancing our dams mentioned above). The straw mulching has another layer of sustainability: our neighbour and SWA certified vigneron, Joel Chambers from Lake Moodemere Estate, will be using his straw mulching machine and straw from his Rutherglen farm to do this project.

The vision for Stanton & Killeen is to increase the amount of native flora and fauna with a whole-of-system mindset where whatever we take out, we are putting back in, and that every aspect affects each other. For example, beneficial insects and small birds can help with pest management and natural methods of fertilization such as cover cropping can increase yield and protect soil structure. Ultimately, we want to create healthier soils so that the property is more resilient during challenging weather such as prolonged droughts.

NLN: Why is sustainability important for Stanton & Killeen?

NK: Because it’s the right thing to do and we can’t imagine operating any other way. I love Dr. Mardi Longbottom’s (from the AWRI) quote: “The concept of sustainability means meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the needs of future generations.”

NLN: How have your customer base reacted to the sustainable initiatives?

NK: Our existing customer base has been very engaged. When we wrote our first article in our Quinta Quarterly magazine, people contacted us to encourage us to keep going with the journey and the newsletter updates. In cellar door, customers want to know exactly what our initiatives are, and what does sustainability truly mean.  We’ve also picked up new customers and markets because of the growing demand for certification, especially internationally. 

NLN: Why is Sustainable Winegrowing Australia certification important for Stanton & Killeen?

NK: I’m really proud of becoming certified through Sustainable Winegrowing Australia in 2022. There was a lot of work involved getting our practices and systems up to a standard that would pass a rigorous audit. Getting the team on the journey was vital for success, especially because to stay certified, we need to pass the audit every three years. Maintaining best practice doesn’t stop once we pass the audit; it’s about remaining consistent and honest.

Becoming certified is voluntary, however it is our way of showing our commitment and passion for the importance of the Sustainable Winegrowing Australia program.  We always knew we wanted to improve our practices, but we weren’t sure how. The program gave us the framework and tools needed to implement change and develop our Sustainability Action Plan.

NLN: How have attitudes and actions around sustainability changed in the wine industry?

NK: When I attended the tri-annual Wine Tech conference (AWITC) in June 2022, the message of the event was loud and clear: get on the bus now as sustainability is no longer optional. The urgent imperative of the wine industry needing to make individual and collective change was echoed throughout the week. I remember thinking that the next conference in 2025 will be very telling. There is now increased pressure from overseas markets to have certification so market entry might become a driving factor for some businesses. However, I like to think that most are changing attitudes and practices because it’s the right thing to do. At the heart of it, wine is an agricultural product greatly impacted by the environment but it’s not just a commodity, we are exposed to changing trends and consumer demands therefor the wine industry needs to do everything we can to be accountable for our positive ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) contributions.

NLN: Do you have any tips for retailers in promoting sustainable brands?

NK: The drinks trade have repeatedly told me that there is confusion around the term sustainable. What does it mean? Is it overused? How does it relate to other terms like organic, natural wine, orange wine, biodynamic, regenerative etc. Customers come in asking for these terms but don’t necessarily know what they mean, but the customer knows they want a winery who has gone that extra mile to produce something better for people and the environment.

My advice would be to engage with the brand or winery directly, find out what actions or initiatives they are practicing and how this makes the wine sustainable. That way it removes the ambiguous nature of the term “sustainable” because every journey is different. Another fantastic resource is the Sustainable Winegrowing Australia website; there are links there for retailers, and case studies to explore. 

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