Glass half full: Australia’s first carbon-neutral winery

Cabernet? No, it’s carbon-neutral. Australia’s first carbon-neutral winery Ross Hill Wines encourages customers to enjoy a tipple and do their bit for the environment.

  • 12.06.2024
  • Time to read 1 min read
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As the nation’s first carbon-neutral winery, Ross Hill Wines likes to encourage customers to enjoy a tipple and do their bit for the environment.

It’s a pitch which has resonated powerfully since the carbon neutral accolade was earned in 2016, to the point where sustainability is now an acknowledged part of the label’s success.

“It’s made a huge difference to our business,” said James Robson, co-owner of the Orange, NSW winery with wife Chrissy.

“A lot of people come here and applaud us because we’re carbon-neutral, and we’re very seriously carbon-neutral – we only buy between $1000 and $2000 of carbon credits a year (to offset the business’s hard-to-abate emissions).”

“I’ve been an environmentalist all my life and I’ve finally had a chance to do something about it.”

The Australian wine industry does not suffer from a shortage of challenges, quite apart from a collapse in the lucrative export market to China after the imposition of anti-dumping duties.

The value of the market shrank to $10.1m in the year to December 2023, three years after it peaked at $1.3bn.

Thankfully, China has now removed the duties, effective from the end of March.

The changing climate, however, is destined to be an even more persistent challenge.

In a January submission to the Federal Government’s agriculture and land sectoral plan, the industry group Australian Grape and Wine (AGW) said viticulture was “particularly susceptible” to warming because of the interplay between the climate and the quality and taste of grapes.

“Many winegrape varieties have a relatively narrow climate niche for optimum production,” the submission said.

“With the entire growing cycle happening earlier, and now in warmer months, we suffer the compounding of the effects.

“Harvest compression, unseasonal damaging storm events, increased frost risk due to earlier bud burst, periods of drought and temperature extremes all take their toll.”

The AGW also pointed to “top-down demands” on sustainability which cost time and money, and a margin squeeze facing growers that was “coming from all directions”.

Despite this, the industry acknowledged it had a role to play in Australia’s net-zero ambition and would continue to implement adaptation and mitigation practices.

NAB chair Philip Chronican, who visited select NSW agricultural customers to see first-hand how they were responding to the threats and opportunities of climate change, said Ross Hill showed that carbon neutrality was much more than a compliance activity.

Mr Chronican said Ross Hill Wines’ business journey to carbon neutrality showed what is possible.

“This has been such a success story, and I think we need to do so much more with so many more customers across Australia because this needs to become mainstream, not something that’s happening in isolated cases,” Mr Chronican said.

Mr Robson has confronted the sector’s undoubted challenges from an underlying position of commitment and passion.

He and his wife Chrissy now own the business and have overseen its transformation from “a bit of a hobby” to a 25,000 case-a-year operation exporting to four countries.

The sustainability program which culminated in carbon neutral certification from the Federal Government in 2016 was rolled out over six years.

Among other things, it featured installation of a 44KW solar panel system, up from 10KW, minimising carbon emissions by cutting back on transport, cutting pumping power by half through decreased water usage, adding rainwater catchment to the roof of the winery, allowing sheep to graze between vines after harvest to reduce tractor usage, and introducing a waste recycling program.

With the solar aspect, Ross Hill had to choose between updating cool rooms built in the 1980s or investing in solar.

Ross Hill Wines co-owners James and Chrissy with the solar panels.

The latter option was expected to deliver a three-year payback on invested capital but was ultimately achieved in 12 months.

It also contributed to the decarbonisation project, which was audited before the group was officially designated as carbon neutral.

The audit required a searching examination of Ross Hill’s good and bad inputs, with the good inputs including the business’s 20 hectares of vines, 300 acres of soil, eight hectares of orchards and the solar panel system.

The negative side of the equation included diesel electricity, packaging, cardboard boxes and transport.

Mr Robson said carbon neutrality not only attracted more customers through the cellar door; it also led to valuable contracts with Qantas and big law firms.

He said being carbon neutral “doesn’t make the wine taste any better” but aligns with his values and has helped to grow the business.

 

"We get the contracts because we’re an ethically-sourced and carbon-neutral business, which makes me feel better as a human being,"
Ross Hill Wines Co-Owner James Robson

“For us as farmers, global warming is the biggest problem that the world has got, so my expectations are very simple: the business has to be profitable so we can look after the environment.

“It’s also made me realise is that I don’t want us to get any bigger than we are – we do 25,000 cases and it provides a great livelihood, but we work very hard at it and don’t want to get any bigger.”

That said, the job at Ross Hill is far from finished.

Among the projects under consideration is a walkway so visitors can see and feel the property at its best.

“I want people to come here and walk through my beautiful farm. That’s what I want to do. You know, I love my little bit of dirt,” Mr Robson said.

He acknowledged that that farming was a “tough” business, although it was a  highly rewarding thing to do.

“And then you turn it into alcohol and get the beauty of drinking it for decades. It’s terrific,” Mr Robson said.

Watch the full profile of Ross Hill Wines below.

 

 

The information contained in this article is based upon sources believed to be reliable but which have not been independently verified. Opinions or ideas expressed may not necessarily be those of National Australia Bank Limited (“NAB”) nor may they necessarily reflect NAB’s views or endorsement. This article is for informational purposes only.

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