Photography by Nick Pitt, Chippy Rivera and Selena Buckingham
From the volcanic plains of western Victoria, this family-owned and operated business have made it their mission to prove that you can still enjoy your favourite tipple without it costing the earth.
As we arrive at Michael Unwin Wines, we are immediately greeted by Poppy, an oversized pooch with a penchant for affection – this welcome is just the first of many signs that this is not your typical consumer-driven winery.
The Umbrella Man
In fact, if you’re lucky enough to speak with the Umbrella Man himself, Michael Unwin, you will realise that this little winery is leading the way in sustainability.
“We are trying to be at the forefront of developing a sustainable winery,” Michael says. “I am excited by innovation. I like to keep abreast of what advances there have been in the industry and seeing if they are a good fit for us. I am proud to have a winery that reflects who I am and what I have learnt in the last 40 years.”
As a vertically integrated winery, everything is done on-site – from grape growing to processing, bottling and labelling, to distributing directly to the customer from their Cellar Door shop front. The entire system is run using a high-end solar power system, meaning they are able to stay completely off-grid.
“We use the same amount of energy in our winery as in my household of five people”Michael Unwin
The world’s largest earthen floor
Knowing the environmental impact of concrete production, Michael chose to use a material found naturally onsite as their flooring, creating what is potentially the world’s largest industrial earthen floor.
Looking down at the smooth, polished surface it is hard to believe that you are walking on soil. “Did you know you’re on the earth floor?” Michael asks. “As soon as our ancestors started walking on the ground, they began developing ‘earthen floors’ but nobody does this on a large scale.”
A promise to the planet
Another example of the winery’s commitment to the environment is its ambition to maintain the natural biodiversity of the land. With over 200 tonnes of compost on-site.
“I’m just a rotting kind of person,” he jokes, as we pass by compost piles the size of small houses. In addition to helping nurture and grow a high-quality grapevine, he also uses the compost to enrich the natural ecosystem.
“We have planted, and continue to plant, tens of thousands of trees; both endemic, native, and exotic,” Michael says. “Many of these are part of the Friends of Forgotten Woodlands Project, which is ensuring the long-term survival of the near extinct Silver Banksia.”
To cask or not to cask?
Did you know that 65% of the carbon footprint of wine comes from the bottle itself? Not planting grapevines, cultivating the grapes, picking them or fermenting them ready for drinking.
“The plastic and packaging that is associated in transporting glass is astronomical,” Michael explains. “In addition to being significantly better for the environment, cask wine is both convenient and more economical for the consumer, keeping fresh longer than bottled varieties and definitely not compromising on taste.”
Taste the difference with a bottle or cask from the Cellar Door located outside Ballarat, Victoria, or available online at michaelunwinwines.com.au.