A proactive approach helps make Kay Brothers an environmental leader

McLaren Vale winemaker Kay Brothers has evolved from an environmental pioneer into an acknowledged environmental leader. The award-winning company put its cards on the table as early as the mid-1900s when it installed a wind turbine on its property, but things have really moved up a gear over the last decade and a half.

A range of initiatives covering sustainability, energy efficiency and waste reduction have been implemented in the winery, vineyard and surrounding area, including solar power, recycled water irrigation, equipment redesign and upgrading, and a creek revegetation project. There has also been a concerted focus on resource and production efficiency. A range of projects jointly developed by management and staff and supported by the family board are estimated to have saved 1191 litres of wasted wine, 156 employee hours, 5.5MWh of electricity and 15,000 litres of water. This totals a theoretical value of $4585 a year.

More recently, an engineering design review of the winery's refrigeration infrastructure has highlighted several options for further cutting energy use.

A key driver for change was an Efficient Wineries Program co-ordinated by the SA Wine Industry Association (SAWIA), Green Industries SA and Adelaide-based business productivity specialists 2XE which helped Kay Brothers adopt a "lean production" approach and develop a new culture of continual improvement. That culture – and the blueprint it provides for others – saw Kay Brothers presented with an environmental leadership award by SAWIA in 2016.

The return on investment has been significant. The 120-panel, 30kW solar system (manufactured in Adelaide) provides two-thirds of the company's energy needs, for example, only recycled water is used in the vineyards, and a recent project replacing old lighting with modern LED fittings is expected to save around $2200 a year.

However, general manager Steve Todd says that is only part of the story. "While the projects have in many cases returned a valuable financial return to the business there have also been more intangible benefits in terms of staff and customer engagement with the work and story," he said.

"Staff see that the board and management are prepared to invest time and resources in sustainability and start to reflect that attitude in their own behaviour."

"The lean manufacturing project and our membership of McLaren Vale's Sustainable Australia Winegrowing program are both good examples where staff have been actively involved in the work and will freely put forward their own ideas and get involved in the discussions and resulting work."

One of the most satisfying projects is the ongoing the restoration of native habitats on an 800-metre section of Pedler Creek which traverses one of the company's vineyards. This includes removing feral olive trees and replanting native trees, grasses, sedges and shrubs. Over 3100 individual plants have been sown over the period of the project thus far.

Work began in 2011 and recently has developed in conjunction with the Lower Onkaparinga Natural Resource Management Board and Onkaparinga Council, using materials from Trees for Life and local volunteers to aid with the on-site works.

"Revegetation will increase the biodiversity of the property with an increase in habitats for birds, reptiles, bats and invertebrates," Todd said. "It will also prevent erosion of the creek line."

Established in 1890, Kay Brothers is recognised as the oldest winery still in founding family hands in McLaren Vale. The original homestead is one of the oldest properties in the Seaview area of the region.