Restaurant and Café spoke to Sir Graeme Avery, CEO and President of one of New Zealand’s world-class wineries Sileni Estates and Chief Winemaker Grant Edmonds to talk history and exciting new sustainability practices being implemented.

Established in late 1997 by the Avery Family, Sileni Estates began as a greenfields vineyard and winery development by Sir Graeme Avery and chief winemaker, Grant Edmonds. Featured in Greek mythology alongside Dionysus, the god of wine, Sileni Estates boasts a state of the art winery designed to crush over 1500 tonnes of grapes. Its winemaking team have honed their skills in wineries around the world and strive to maintain high standards in environmentally sustainable viticultural and wine-making practices.

Sir Graeme had become familiar with the great Old World food and wine regions from his successful company Adis’ operations in Milan, Paris and Madrid. He had always wanted to combine this passion for food and wine with the business experience he had acquired over 22 years of developing export markets at Adis and the Sileni business was just the key.

Over the years Sileni’s biggest accomplishment has been becoming a major exporter of New Zealand wines in its 17 years since establishment, and today distributes its brands in 81 global markets. Sileni wines are European in style, and are light and elegant to be enjoyed with food.

“Today, wine and cuisine is all about the natural flavours of the food and the natural flavours of the grape variety,” said Sir Graeme. As the current cuisine has become significantly lighter and healthier, this has been a natural fit with the Sileni wine style. The vineyards biggest concern in terms of the impact of climate and weather pattern change is the water availability.

According to Sir Graeme, gradual increase in temperature will be of benefit for New Zealand grape growing where one or two degrees more heat will provide better growing conditions with riper fruit and better wines.

“New Zealand at present is on the cusp of a cool climate wine growing region and any increase in temperature will be a positive. Whereas most wine regions of Australia and some in Europe will, for example, become too hot for wine grapes with a one or two degree increase in heat,” said Sir Graeme. Productions for the wines operate from two regions, Marlborough and Hawkes Bay.

Sustainable wine projects like energy use, packaging and projects specific to the wineries themselves are a focus for the company’s chief winemaker Grant Edmonds. Around four years ago the winery brought in a consultant to look into the energy use and they highlighted several areas for savings. These included turning off some obsolete heating units, putting timers on chillers to utilise low cost power, using waste heat from compressors to pre-heat hot water and encouraging staff to turn off unnecessary lighting and electrical machinery.

“We managed to reduce power consumption by over 19 percent in the first year,” said Edmonds. “Since then we have also changed several of our processes to lower energy alternatives which means that our total energy consumption at the winery has still not risen above what it was four years ago although our throughput in that time has risen by more than 50 percent.”

Sileni have shifted from conventional cold stabilising (reducing the wine to 2 degrees for 10-14 days) to using the addition of a plant based material to bind with tartrates and prevent their crystallisation without any chilling needed.

“We have moved from conventional red wine pumpovers using pumps to irrigate the cap, to a system of compressed air bubbles that push the fermenting juice up through the cap from the bottom. This means we run a single air compressor for about four hours instead of the four pumps running for 18-20 hours daily with the conventional method,” said Edmonds.

The company have also moved to cases without the cardboard dividers, reducing another area of potential waste. As some of the wine is bottled offshore the company doesn’t have to ship packaging around the world and use glass, cartons and labels produced close to the point of consumption.

For the last five years, Sileni have been composting the solid waste including skins and stalks etc) and returning the compost to the vineyards. This process recycles nutrients and has the added benefit of suppressing weeds and retaining soil moisture and structure. “We use sheep for leaf plucking on most of our blocks as they negate the need for mechanical plucking (no fossil fuel use in tractors) while keeping weeds down at the same time,” said Edmonds.

Looking forward, Sileni aims to have both solar water heating and photovoltaic cells installed at the winery. These will provide pre-heating and base load, potentially reducing power consumption by 20 percent or more, and complemented by energy efficient light bulbs and sensor technology.

As Sileni looks ahead, the company hopes to fully understand the changing wine business environment and the impact of new technology on tomorrow’s consumer behaviour and business practices. The outlook for the industry provides a whole lot of new and different thinking for innovation, based on a full understanding of the end consumer. This year the company looks to achieve continued growth in the current markets and development of new markets, as well as the start of a stronger programme of brand communication through gaining a better understanding of the end consumer.

Its wines have won more than its fair share of significant awards across all the varietals it produces. Some recent notable awards include a trophy for Best Pinot Noir for the Estate Selection Plateau at the Sydney International Wine Competition, and the latest release of the Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc, 2015, has won multiple gold medals, at the San Francisco International Wine Competition and the New Zealand International Wine Show. The 2014 Estate Selection Lodge Chardonnay and 2014 Cellar Selection Chardonnay were both awarded double gold at the China Wine and Spirits awards.

The company has operations in New Zealand with staff in Hastings and Blenheim, as well as in growing operations in Australia, USA and UK/ Europe. It has 50 full time staff worldwide and many part-time and contract staff, especially in vineyards in Marlborough and Hawkes Bay.

Sileni’s current portfolio comprises of the Cellar Selection entry level range and Estate Selection reserve range. Varietals include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Syrah, as well as Rosé and Sparkling Brut, Sparkling Pinot Gris, Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc and Sparkling Rose plus a Late Harvest Semillon.

In exceptional harvest years, with outstanding grapes, Sileni produces a limited release icon range, the Exceptional Vintage, including a Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir.