Hill-Smith Family Estates: How we’ve thought about (and adopted) sustainable wine solutions

Hill-Smith Family Estates: How we’ve thought about (and adopted) sustainable wine solutions
This article was written by Louisa Rose, Head of Winemaking at Hill-Smith Family Estates and first published on the International Wineries for Climate Action’s (IWCA) webpage.

Carrying Forward a Six-Generation History of Winemaking for the Next Generation

To talk about how we think about sustainability and climate action today, we need to look back.

At Hill-Smith Family Estates, we’ve been growing grapes and fruit, farming land, and making wines for six generations — 174 years, to be exact. Generational sustainability and long-term thinking have been fundamental to this success. Synonymous with long-term thinking is the continual analysis of opportunities and threats, whether they be political, social, economic, or environmental.

We’re based in South Australia, the driest state on the driest continent. That means that we have always had to work with what mother nature provides — sometimes that’s an opportunity, sometimes that’s a threat.

Many of the things we think about or do, that we now describe as ‘climate action’, are things we have always done or planned as part of our continuous improvement strategy. That said, the sense of urgency due to the effects and predictions of man-made climate change added to our determination.

If the wine industry is going to exist in any shape or form in another 30 years, we must reduce our emissions, help each other on the journey and where needed, help other parts of our communities to do the same.

It’s critical to ensuring we can pass on our planet, our land, and our resources to future generations.

Understanding our Climate Footprint — and Prioritizing Areas for Action

In addition to accelerating our own sustainability efforts, we realised that success would only come from working collaboratively with like-minded businesses to ensure that there is a place for and an environment that can support wine into the future.

IWCA has brought us together with like-minded individuals and businesses, fostering a space for exchange and learning between wineries and external expertise. IWCA has provided GHG accounting tools and established rigorous protocols for measurement and verification, which have been instrumental in measuring our own benchmarks and progress.

Time-consuming as it was to collect the first year’s GHG data, it was an important journey for us. Until we measured our baseline, we could not prioritise and plan for what would bring about meaningful change.

While there are about seventy emissions categories across multiple business units, there are only ten components that contribute close to 80% of our CO2 footprint. This provided clarity for our emission reduction strategies.

From measuring, we know approximately 80% of our GHG footprint comes from our Scope 3 emissions. This can be quite daunting if you think you have no control over Scope 3. Of course, this is not the case, but it highlights the importance of collaboration and everyone working together across the industry to reduce emissions: our Scope 3 emissions are another’s Scopes 1 and 2. Talking to these businesses, encouraging them on the journey, lobbying with others and choosing lower GHG options is a start.

Another significant part of our strategy is to keep our eyes on the research and development so that we are primed for early adoption. We know that there will be technological breakthroughs that will help us reduce emissions.

Understanding how other businesses and industries are reporting the emissions and carbon zero goals is important as well. Reporting Scopes 1 and 2 only is quite different to those (such as IWCA members) who include Scope 3 in their reporting and goals.

Refining Hill-Smith Family Estates' Sustainability Strategy towards Net Zero

Developing our transition plan, or ‘emissions reduction roadmap’, to meet our net zero goals has been another important step in our journey.

Having a plan takes away a lot of the anxiety of such a large challenge and breaks it down into manageable pieces.

We started with the easy things — the “low-hanging fruit” — and bit by bit, we have worked up to more intensive projects.

For example, with warmer temperatures and sunny days, investment in winery and warehouse solar systems was an easy decision. We have one of the largest winery solar installations in Australia. Working with our power company AGL, our solar systems generate 2,900MWh of clean, renewable energy annually. In our South Australian wineries, 25% of our electricity needs are met by this production. The installation of solar panels on our warehouse rooves has the added benefit of significantly increasing the insulation properties of the buildings, delivering additional savings in the power required to keep our wine at a constant temperature.

While some of our projects, like that one, have readily available solutions, other projects rely on solutions that are in development or require emerging technology. In some areas, the development of technology takes significant time, and on top of that, there are components outside of our control, such as decarbonisation of the grid. We lend our expert individuals to industry research and advisory boards and invest significantly as a business in this research and development to support rapid decarbonisation

We have certainly faced challenges along the way, such as:

  • Gathering data for inventory reports. It is a time-consuming process. In the past 12 months, we have focused on streamlining our systems to standardise templates across different business units and reduce duplication. This has resulted in more time to focus on data analysis and developing our reduction roadmap.

  • Understanding government strategies. While there is reasonable clarity for electricity, it is difficult to predict what may occur in the gas and transport sectors. To alleviate this, Hill-Smith Family Estates has joined an industry collaboration investigating local biogas production and reuse.

What’s Top of our Minds as We Look Towards 2050

Looking toward 2030 (our intermediate year to meet certain emissions reduction targets) and 2050 (our target year to reach net zero emissions), our emissions reduction roadmap now helps us focus our efforts.

We continue to look at where we can be more energy efficient. Some projects will be easier, such as adjusting storage temperatures and replacing air conditioner units that use refrigeration gases, which have lower global warming potential. Others require more investigation, such as introducing technologies like electrodialysis for cold stabilisation. We continue to model options to compare not just financial impacts but also GHG emission benefits.

We have researched fossil fuel-reducing solutions and have mapped our transition to electric and hybrid vehicles and electric forklifts, and a priority will be to install the infrastructure to support the new technology.

Glass continues to be a challenge and a major contributor to our Scope 3 emissions. We will continue to search for better options with suppliers and the industry, and invest in lighter weight glass solutions, high recycled-content glass and alternative packaging. These initiatives will also help to deliver a reduction in our product's transport emissions.

Another significant project is assessing our CO2 use. In collaboration with the Australian Wine Research Institute, we are developing a solution to capture and reuse this CO2.

Additionally, quantifying the carbon insetting of our native vegetation areas will provide greater accuracy in our reporting, and will help to reduce our vineyard footprint, especially the challenges related to diesel usage and soil emissions.

We are not going to save the planet or solve the issues of climate change on our own. As a collective, IWCA has brought new attention to the impacts of climate change on wine within and outside the industry. Partnering with wineries and individuals who are driving and affecting real change such as IWCA brings us hope that if we all do our bit, we can make a difference. It’s a great motivation.

Back to blog