A man of the land
Yealands is a winery like no other – its scenic vineyards are carboNZero certified, home to a variety of bird and animal life, and moulded to operate sustainably at every level. From them, the company produces a selection of award-winning premium wines known for their dramatic, intense flavours.
In general, Yealands is one of the most innovative wineries the world over, and the story of how it became that way is almost an epic. It begins with founder Peter Yealands – whose life and career has been the subject of an award-winning article and a full length biography, A Bloke for all Seasons.
The tale is fascinating – Peter’s father Keith Yealands joined the war effort under age, was shot and left for dead. When he was discovered by enemy troops he was sent to work in their coal mines, all while he had a piece of shrapnel embedded in his skull. After the war, Keith returned to Marlborough and opened his own grocery store.
“I worked in my father’s grocery store until he sold it when I was 15,” recalls Peter Yealands, now the owner of Yealands Family Wines. “After that I went out and sold my brawn. I was doing labour-type work such as sheering. After a year or so I thought to myself that this was bloody stupid. I put a bit of brain into it and I started doing deals that didn’t mean I was just working for someone. I started doing my own fencing and then making hay, trading it. Then buying coal, selling it.”
Peter later got involved with construction, but after working with the general public for about six months he started running into issues around getting paid. He then moved on to Government and local bodies that provided him the opportunity to work on much more complex projects with surety of payment.
“I started working on bridges and microwave towers,” he recalls. “I worked on civil engineering projects, working for the railways and working for the education department, and for the local council.”
That first few years of work, however, ended up costing him much more in taxes than he ever expected to pay. After this initial disgust of paying taxes, Peter sought out new opportunities. He found one he liked when the New Zealand Government started an initiative to kick start aquaculture development.
“At the time they were offering a 120 per cent tax exemption. I went to my bean-counter and told him ‘Yeah, that sounds like me!’” he says.
From there, he says it took another seven years to kick start the marine farming industry battling through red tape. He spent the next 20 odd years farming mussels and was a pioneer in the marine farming industry.
“My family came in and joined me, and we became the biggest single body in the industry,” Peter relates. “For a long period, we represented about 25 per cent of it.”
Peter eventually left the mussel farming industry when red tape once again threatened to interfere with his business.
“I foresaw that it was going to crash and I fortunately got out of it in time. I then went into deer farming, getting involved with embryo transplants with red deer. This was for trophy shooting – and I was very successful at that,” he says.
This endeavour pushed him to get involved with the forestry industry, cultivating both an indigenous forest and an exotic one. At the same time, he took advantage of the heavy machinery that he had acquired over his work in various industries and became involved with the aggregate industry, and got into fish farming, where he exported Pacific salmon into Western Australia.
Building up from nothing
Peter’s career in the wine industry began after he bought a site just outside of Blenheim, where he created what he describes as a beautiful park-like setting. With enough surface straight land in the acreage, he decided to plant a few grapes. This was in 1998. The lower Wairau Valley, where he began planting, was seen as not an ideal location for grapes, and Peter says that a lot of people considered him a “bit of a nut case for trying”, as most thought the land was too heavy.
“They said any number of things were going to go wrong, but they didn’t. We got to every major goal we could ever hope for.”
Since 2002, Peter has expanded by purchasing eight co-joining farms and put them into vineyards. The price of grapes continued to climb, and he was able to turn a good profit from those sales. In 2008 Peter’s roll was brought to a halt by the financial crash.
“When I was selling my grapes in that period I was selling in the spot market, which was for the major players who just needed extra grapes to top up the contract supplies,” says Peter.
“I had a real good feel about where the market was going and I foresaw that there was going to be a surplus of grapes,” he recalls. “I didn’t foresee the financial crash of 08, but I could see that grape supply was going to catch up with the demand. I knew that I was in a position that would put me under pressure if I didn’t do anything.”
In 2006, Peter saw his only option was to build his own winery. He drew up his own plan and secured the financing for what would become Yealands Family Wines. In 2007 they broke ground on the project and completed it over the next year.
“There was no holding us back, we were sailing ahead into a head wind like no other,” Peter says. “On the 8th of the 8th in 2008 – which we say are the Chinese lucky numbers – we did our official launch. We had three-and-a-half million litres of wine in here with not one customer. But it was safe and in tanks, and all we had to do was go out there and sell it.”
Peter was able to quickly build up a team due to the fact that many of the larger players had been downsizing.
“I had a lot of people who had become sick of the corporate life that came here in order to work for a family,” he says. “Today, I believe that I have the best team that one could get, and their record proves it – because we have gone from nothing and a lot of scepticism to being ranked 6th in New Zealand.”
As proof of their success, Peter points to the company’s London International Wine Challenge award for the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world.
“It is a hard competition to win, but we did it and amongst thousands of other entries.”
Yealands was the world’s first winery to be carboNZerocertTM since inception and since then, Yealands Family Wines have received a plethora of industry awards recognising them for the quality of their wines (over 500 medals in five vintages), along with their achievements in sustainability, including ‘Most Sustainable Medium Business’ at the 2012 International Green Awards and Winner of the Large Business Leadership Award at the Green Ribbon Awards 2013.
“We have been a finalist in the Kenexa Best Work Place. My aim this year is to win it,” promises Peter. “We have proven that we can do it, because everyone that we have is committed. We are really on a roll and there is no holding us back.”
Yealands’ product also consistently scores high in competitions, and has earned gold medals in numerous international and national awards. Peter credits that consistency to the care they put into each and every wine, and also the care that goes into the land the grapes come from.
Sustainability is indeed one of the foremost concerns at Yealands Family Wines, and the world has taken notice. The winery has received numerous accolades for their many initiatives, which they expand upon every year.
Today, Yealands uses about 10 per cent of all of their grapevine prunings, to create energy. The clippings are baled and then seasoned for up to six months to ensure clean burning. They use the same system to heat the water of the winery, and this process produces about 500 KW of energy at full capacity.
The company’s ultimate goal is not just to become self-sufficient, but also to put power back into the grid. Peter says they are well on their way to achieving that.
“We are putting a massive photovoltaic system on the roof of the winery”. It will produce 100 KW of power – and it will be the biggest in New Zealand. And that’s only one of the many sustainability projects we have on the go.”
“We have miniature sheep in the vineyards that we use to minimise mowing,” Peter adds. “We are also using bio-diesel, and have put hydrogen generators on some of our tractors.”
The Yealands Winery uses 25 per cent of the electricity that other wine producers do to make a litre of wine, according to stats from government bodies that measure the energy consumption of businesses. Peter says this is due to the fact that they have implemented a “whole heap” of innovative technological solutions. As they have grown, so has their application of these power saving technologies.
Peter attributes his overall success to just giving things a go, surrounding himself with the right team and living by the motto ‘think boldly, tread lightly and never say it can’t be done “I don’t own a suit, I have one pair of good shoes, and I still drive the same old car that I had years ago. I am pretty basic. I am just your typical Kiwi,” he says. “There is no job that I would ask people to do that I wouldn’t do myself.”
Peter says, at heart, he has always been a farmer. He has a relationship with the land and the animals on it, and he has always understood the value of producing amazing products from nature. Today, he is “very, very proud” of what the company has achieved based on that principle.
For more information, please visit their website at: Yealands Family Wines
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