This April, Chet Valley’s head winemaker, John Hemmant, held a virtual conference on sustainability in partnership with Eco Meetup Norwich, discussing vineyard sustainability, alongside key faced by the UK countryside. For those who missed it, we’ve worked to put together some of the most important points covered.
Sustainability has been at the heart of Chet Valley’s operations since the planting of the vineyard’s first vines in 2010. Operating under the motto ‘bold but faithful’, we manage the Vineyard and Winery with a uniquely sustainable philosophy, deeply rooted in respect for the natural elements of winemaking and the environment, whilst tying in carefully considered elements of tailored innovation. On-site, we maintain a complex permaculture -carefully optimising field space and growing a variety of plants and crops.
11 years since establishing our site, balancing innovative technology with proven winemaking techniques to deliver a sustainable product from beginning to end remains central to our processes. Our sustainable solutions protect our land, our community, the flora and fauna surrounding us, and the complex ecosystems of Norfolk – all of which ultimately breathe life into our products, and the wine industry itself. Here’s how we do it:
Our unique permaculture is integral to the health of our land, and the quality of our wine. In dedicating a significant portion of our surrounding land to the growth of indigenous and useful plant species, we implement a wide range of benefits to both the growing process, and our surrounding environment.
A carefully selected range of ‘green fertiliser’ plants such as grass and Alfalfa are sowed between our elongated vineyard rows, which, for the most part, are left untilled and untouched (save cutting post-nesting season), helping improve soil and plant health, alongside stability.
Outside of the rows themselves, we take care to maintain large pockets of untouched ecosystem, with wildflowers, Mallow, Parsley, Apricot, and Red Campion being planted along the perimeter of the vineyard, and more significant additions such as Maple, Crab Apple, and Cherry trees throughout the border of our land. Each of these plants contributes greatly to Chet Valley’s on-site permaculture, helping build and maintain the local fauna, including a number of small birds and rodents, which, in turn, are managed by birds of prey. In addition, in selecting plants ‘useful’ to the landscape and our organisation, we’re able to introduce a further range of locally grown ingredients to our offerings.
With this being said, our sustainable vineyard management goes far beyond just ‘cover crops’. We firmly believe that vines grow best when surrounded by well-established and balanced permaculture (not a monoculture), including a mix of small plants, hedgerows, trees, and water sources – not to mention wildlife. In partnership with the Bergh Apton Conservation Trust, we’ve worked to make significant contributions to our local ecosystem and environment. With their guidance, in addition to maintaining large sections of the natural landscape, we’ve signed up for a number of initiatives with the goal of encouraging beneficial insects (including bees) and other natural predators, actively decreasing the presence of potentially harmful pests.
The damaging effects of pesticides and related sprays on the environment and surrounding ecosystems are well-documented, with many varieties and active ingredients proving to bring significant detriment. In our quest for sustainability, and guided by our passion for the natural environment surrounding the vineyard, Chet Valley has worked to implement alternative solutions to managing issues such as pests and fungus. This is supported by our selection of vine varieties most resistant to disease. For example, by widening the space between our rows to a rather unconventional 2.4m, and leaving indigenous plants such as grass and alfalfa to grow in between, we greatly encourage soil stability, whilst implementing a creative solution to fungal attacks. This increased space allows our vines access to improved airflow, effectively combatting the overly moist or humid conditions leading to the growth of problematic species such as Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew, and grey mould.
This technique is furthered by our regular leaf stripping, conducted by hand on a yearly basis to help encourage airflow, and directly minimise the presence of dew and moisture on the vines and grapes through evaporation.
We create and apply resilient recycled mulch to the soil in the vineyard. This unique addition supports our unique and well-established permaculture and helps retain moisture throughout dry spells in Spring. It is also used on the roundabout outside of the vineyard, and combined with a waste cardboard base to ensure weeds are well-combatted. This much is created using waste grape stems, skin, and seeds leftover from the winemaking process, which would otherwise be wasted.
Sustainable winemaking and vineyard management techniques are constantly evolving – with even the smallest innovations able to have a huge positive impact.
Though our existing winegrowing methods allow for a great diversity of flora and fauna, alongside soil improvement and biodiversity, we’re always striving to learn and improve. In order to facilitate this, we work closely alongside a number of local conservation groups, including the Bergh Apton Conservation Trust, with whom we’re currently partaking in the Beeline Initiative. In addition, we’re collaborating with esteemed institutions such as the University of East Anglia and the University of Cambridge to ensure strides are made in understanding vineyard ecosystems as a whole. Current research regarding the flora and fauna on-site at the vineyard will run until 2023.
Other current partnership projects include the Bishops Rows, a portion of 5 rows dedicated to the Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher – an avid ecologist appointed as leader of the Church of England’s Environment Programme by the Archbishop of Canterbury this year. These rows will be grown and farmed completely organically, acting as a control for our future outlook to becoming a completely organic vineyard.
Our dedication to sustainability doesn’t simply end upon harvesting. We’ve taken careful steps to consider the impact of our processing and packaging, leading to the creation of our traditional glass bottles, recyclable labels, and biodegradable wooden gift packaging – a standard for all sets sold in our online store. In addition to this, the vast majority of our pairings are organic and locally produced. Our customers can take pride in knowing they’re supporting both our local environment and businesses.
We’ve also taken care to ensure the sustainability of our wine ingredients. Chet Valley uses clay sourced on-site as a highly effective refinement agent in place of isinglass or casein. This means that our entire range of wine is vegan, and minimises environmental damage associated with sourcing and transporting ingredients.
So, what’s on the horizon for Chet Valley? In the coming years, we’re looking to continue our proven sustainable vineyard and winemaking processes. Conducting further research on those that have worked well for our contemporaries is amongst our top priorities. In addition, John is excited to continue to spread the word regarding the importance of permaculture and sustainability on vineyards.
Should our experimentation with the fully organic Bishop’s Row turn out to be a success, we’ll be one step closer to claiming our status as a fully organic vineyard. Time will tell. For now, we’re excited to continue our commitment to biodiversity and sustainability. They are what make Chet Valley not only an award-winning vineyard but a beautiful location for visitors and resident wildlife.
Would you like to visit the vineyard to learn more about our permaculture and sustainable winemaking process? Book in for a tour and tasting session with our head winemaker, John Hemmant, here, or, discover more things to do.
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