Peter Yealands proposes 'complete solution' to grape marc issues

Yealands Wine Group founder Peter Yealands has an ambitious plan to solve the wine industry's grape marc problems.

Yealands Wine Group founder Peter Yealands has an ambitious plan to solve the wine industry's grape marc problems.

A sustainability pioneer has unveiled an ambitious plan to solve one of the problems facing the Marlborough wine industry: what to do with grape marc?

The winemaking byproduct - the stems, seeds, skins and pulp left over after grapes are pressed for wine - has been a contentious issue in the region for years.

Mounting production combined with inaction to find an industry-wide solution has led to growing environmental concerns and prosecutions over incorrect storage.

Heavy trucks will transport grape marc from wine companies to the storage facility at Flaxbourne Station, north of Ward.

Heavy trucks will transport grape marc from wine companies to the storage facility at Flaxbourne Station, north of Ward.

But Yealands Wine Group founder Peter Yealands, himself facing prosecution, thinks he has the solution, to transform bulk quantities of marc mixed with mussels into animal feed.

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In a resource consent application lodged with the Marlborough District Council in early March, Yealands wrote to council chief executive Mark Wheeler setting out his proposal.

"I think it is generally accepted that there is a need for a central processing facility for grape marc," he said.

"To date the industry has not been willing or able to work co-operatively to develop such a facility (and has not wanted to meet the cost).

"The facility I am developing will provide a complete solution to the serious issues, including environmental issues, which the industry and community will face without it."

GrowCo, a company Yealands is connected to - his son Aaron Yealands is the director - filed the resource consent covering the first stage of the project, to construct a storage pad and leachate dam.

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If grape marc was not stored properly the nitrate, sodium and chloride-rich leachate could get into surface and ground water, creating a chemical imbalance leading to the pollution of streams and waterways.

The application said GrowCo had contracts in place to collect up to 50,000 tonnes of grape marc, which would be transported by truck to the facility at Flaxbourne Station, a farm owned by Yealands north of Ward.

"It is proposed that initially the facility will process 40,000 to 50,000 tonnes which represents approximately 82 to 100 per cent of the region's grape marc," the application said.

The company was proposing to build a storage pad, about 1.6 hectares in size, made from compacted mudstone. Leachate would be collected in a lined dam with a storage capacity of about 19,500 cubic metres.

The leachate would then be tested and pH corrected as required, before being spread by spray tanker on the pasture around the site. If the application was approved, the plan was to have the facility in place by vintage 2017.

Marlborough District Council resource consents manager Anna Eatherly said council staff had visited the site and found work was already being carried out, which "you're not supposed to do" without approval.

Eatherly said the council was trying to reach a decision on the application as soon as possible. It was just waiting for a response from one of the affected parties, KiwiRail, she said.

A separate resource consent application was needed for the industrial plant, which would transform the stored grape marc, combined with mussels, into animal feed.

Yealands, who in his letter to Wheeler said he was meeting the substantial cost of the project himself, did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Wine Marlborough chairman Rhyan Wardman said, while he had not seen the application, it sounded like a positive initiative that he thought would attract a lot of interest from the industry.

"Anything that creates a beneficial byproduct from what has been historically regarded as a waste stream I think has to be good," he said.

Giesen Wines, where Wardman worked as general manager, along with a number of other wine companies, used their marc to make compost which was returned to the vineyard.

Having diverse options for how the byproduct was managed was a good thing for Marlborough, and something Wardman said would make the long-term management of marc more sustainable.

In 2014, the Marlborough District Council tried to facilitate a deal between a number of wine companies and Australian company Tarac Technologies to set up a facility to manage grape marc, but the talks fell through.

Late last year, the council took the unprecedented step of taking prosecutions against five parties, including Yealands and GrowCo, over the discharge of grape marc or leachate into water or on land.

 - The Marlborough Express


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