To farm for the future then we have to become carbon neutral said Alisdair Tulloch

Alisdair Tulloch wants to be growing grapes and making wines in the coming decades and he believes making the decision to become carbon neutral will enable him to pursue this future.
Alisdair Tulloch wants to be growing grapes and making wines in the coming decades and he believes making the decision to become carbon neutral will enable him to pursue this future.

One advantage of being a fifth generation Hunter Valley wine producer is the fact there are plenty of family diaries at hand recording details on harvests and other important on-farm activities covering many decades .

Scrolling through one such diary from 1995 Alisdair Tulloch was able to read his grandfather Harry Tulloch's notes on the start of vintage. In that year semillon picking started at the beginning of February and continued until mid month.

It was a similar start date for the other vintages of the late 1990s

"But this vintage we started to picking our semillon on January 14 and had completed the harvest by January 26," said Alisdair.

"Due to climate change we are now picking our grapes on average one month earlier. Should this trend continue we will start harvesting before the New Year. 

"Professor Snow Barlow, speaking at a recent conference on climate change, said Australia's grape harvest was moving forward at 0.8 days/year however due to increasing impacts on our climate that figure had recently risen to 1.8days/year."

This means bud burst is earlier and ripening is faster thanks to hotter temperatures especially at night. Another challenge is decreasing rainfall and the fact the rain that does fall often comes in storms not as soaking rain.

With all the historic information at his fingertips and today's reality clearly visible in his family's vineyards in Pokolbin Alisdair has taken the bold step to take the family's business, Keith Tulloch Wines, through the process of gaining Australian Government certification to say their operation is carbon neutral.

They are only the second vineyard in Australia to gain that certification the other being Ross Hill Wines, Orange.

He has been fully supported is this task by his family including grandfather Harry and his parents Keith and Amanda. Keith founded the business in 1997 which today consists of 30 acres under grapes including the Field of Mars vineyard on Hermitage Road which is also home to their winery and tasting rooms plus an independently operated restaurant and retail outlet .

The decision to go down the path of becoming carbon neutral was based on Alisdair's commitment to take action on climate change. He proudly wears his Australian Farmers for Climate Action cap and is very keen to see other viticulturists and wine producers join him in a carbon neutral farming and business world.

"I want to be making top quality wine in 20 to 30 years and to do that I believe we have to take action now to become sustainable and therefore we all need to become carbon neutral," he said.

"It will take a bit of extra work and require commitment but to me its absolutely vital we go down this path.

"Already when we tell visitors to our winery we are certified carbon neutral they immediately feel they are part of a movement that is taking action on climate change. When they buy our wine they are making a difference and this is important to us and our customers."

The process to become carbon neutral involved first measurements on their carbon footprint which was set at 660 tonnes and then how to reduce that to figure to zero. There were independent audits of the operation to ensure they met the criteria for certification. 

Commenting on the work involved in gaining the certificate Alisdair said he would like to see the process become easier and more affordable for small businesses but in doing that he does not want to see its integrity compromised. 

During the process Alisdair sought advice from other vineyard owners who held similar climate change views to himself including Cullen Wines, WA, Temple Bruer Wines SA and Tahbilk Winery, Vic.

The changes at the vineyard and winery to achieve  zero carbon were multifaceted. The big ticket item is the soon to be constructed 65kw solar power system with a longterm aim to install battery storage.

Utilising that solar power means running electric forklifts and Alisdair would love to see electric tractors but that may take a  while longer.

In the meantime waste has been drastically reduced with glass and cardboard recycled and a contract is being developed to take organic waste to a Newcastle facility for processing. Only bio-degradable plastic is being used and C02 use in the winery has changed from dry ice to captured CO2 along with implementing greater water efficiencies.

Reducing the weight of their wine bottles by just 100 grams came make a serious dent in their footprint - less weight, less glass,less transport inputs.

In the vineyard itself no inorganic fertiliser is being applied and the demand for NPK is being supplied by chicken manure and in-row cover crops. Grape marc is also being recycled.

If all these management decisions cannot prevent a zero carbon footprint, for example the use of a diesel tractor, then the business can, through an approved government agency fund off-sets. Recently they funded the building of solar farms in India as a carbon off-set.

With all these changes being implemented at Keith Tulloch Wines Alisdair said he would like to see governments provide greater incentives for other small businesses to follow his family's example.

"Tackling climate change means I and other young people have a future in the wine industry but everyone has to play their part as climate change affects us all," he said.

"Perhaps if there were more incentives farmers and small business owners in general would undertake the type of management changes we have implemented because that's what is urgently needed to make a difference."