Polluters on notice as Marlborough companies ordered to remove grape byproduct

Leachate runoff and ponding from grape marc dump sites in Marlborough.

Leachate runoff and ponding from grape marc dump sites in Marlborough.

A Marlborough man with the goal of becoming the world's most sustainable wine producer has again been ordered to remove a dump of grape byproduct after it leached into a waterway. 

Peter Yealands​ was handed an abatement notice by the Marlborough District Council to remove grape marc after thousands of tonnes were dumped on leased farmland on the eastern Wither Hills, south of Blenheim, during this year's harvest.

He was previously issued an abatement notice by the council in 2014 for grape marc sites on six properties in Seddon.

Grape marc leachate found in a stream near State Highway 1, south of Blenheim.

Grape marc leachate found in a stream near State Highway 1, south of Blenheim.

The latest notice required Yealands to stop any further dumping on the site, cover the existing marc, and remove any ponded leachate.

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He has been given a deadline to comply with the notice by Friday. 

Grapegrower Peter Yealands says he is a keen environmentalist trying to find a solution to grape marc disposal.

Grapegrower Peter Yealands says he is a keen environmentalist trying to find a solution to grape marc disposal.

Yealands, who founded Yealands Family Wines, said he was trying to find a solution to his grape marc problem, an issue that was plaguing the wine industry.

The notice was one of five served by the council to companies dumping grape marc during the past autumn harvest. The council released details of the notices following a request under the Official Information Act.

Notices were also served on Awarua Farms (Marlborough) Ltd, formerly under receivership, and Tuamarina dairy farmer Phillip Woolley, after grape marc leached from a nearby property into a rural drain. 

A grape marc pile.

A grape marc pile.

A Waihopai Valley vineyard managed by Babich Wines was also issued with an abatement notice after grape marc leached into groundwater.

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An abatement notice was issued to Blenheim contractor Mike Gifford after grape marc leachate flowed into a stream from a quarry site at Seventeenth Valley, near State Highway 1, south of Blenheim.

Gifford previously received an abatement notice for wood shavings, and 4-year-old grape marc left by the previous owner, on the same site in March 2015. 

All the current notices required the owners to stop dumping, have the marc covered and all leachate discharge stopped and removed to a compliant site by a date in September.

Yealands said the grape marc was dumped on the Wither Hills site as a "stop gap" measure during the busiest part of the harvest season.

A purpose-built pit was dug to dump the marc on the farmland as a fall back while truck companies shifted grape marc from wineries, Yealands said.

"It was always intended as a temporary measure," he said. "Unfortunately the leachate from the grape marc leaked from the pit into a nearby waterway."

He described the leakage as "very small in the scale of things".

"It is a difficult, volatile medium to deal with and a little bit goes a long way."

There was little damage to vegetation in the stream, he said.

"We immediately remedied the problem by building a wall to stop the leak."

Arrangements were later made under the abatement notice to cover the material and dry it out, and remove it to council-owned oxidation ponds.

"However council stopped this and we instead shifted it to holding ponds on Yealands Estate in Seddon where we use it as fertiliser on our own vineyards," he said.

"Council stopped us doing that as well, I don't know why but they later retracted the decision to let us continue."

Finding a useful economic purpose for grape marc was an industry issue for which he hoped to find a solution.

Removing the grape marc to council landfills at a cost of $90 a tonne was not an economic option for many wineries, he said.

"I'm a keen environmentalist and we were trying to fix an environmental problem but we came unstuck."

Research was being done to find a use for grape marc in fish feed, pet food or as stock feed, he said.

The omega oil rich byproduct could be good stock feed instead of palm kernel if the right balance was found.

"There's not a lot of energy value in it and there is no real use for the marc as yet so we are working to find a solution to bring about a good outcome.

"It has been difficult to dispose of because it is a volatile substance to work with.

"There also seems to be a certain amount of paranoia, rightly or wrongly, around the leachate."

Yealands had sent 2000 bales of dry composted marc, mixed with molasses to raise the metabolisable energy (ME), to drought stricken farmers in North Canterbury as stock feed.

He was contracted by Seddon-based Growco Ltd to buy up to 60 per cent of all the grape marc produced annually in the Marlborough region. Disposing of the grape marc was not associated with either Yealands Family Wines or its 80 per cent majority shareholder Marlborough Lines.

The Marlborough District Council estimated 48,500 tonnes of grape marc were produced from the 2016 harvest.

Council compliance officer Gina Fergusson said the property owners had advised the grape marc would be removed, and more inspections would take place.

One owner had applied for a time extension to remove the marc. No-one had appealed the notices.

Babich Wines managing director Joe Babich said the company stopped the leachate going into groundwater after a complaint was made that the local water had become tainted.

The grape marc compost pit was covered and an impervious lining built to stop leaching, and the compost removed, before the council issued the abatement notice, he said.

"At our own expense we added potable water from our supply to the local water system."

Mike Gifford had removed the grape marc required by council.

A spokesman for Phillip Woolley said all requirements under the abatement notice had been met for the Tuamarina site.

The council issued 13 abatement notices, and four infringement notices, between 2010 and 2016 to companies and individuals for non-compliance of disposing waste products. No prosecutions resulted from the notices. 

 - The Marlborough Express


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