Knowledge for better food systems

The Yalumba Wine Company

An interview with Dr. Cecil S. Camilleri, Manager of the Sustainable Wines Programmes

About Yalumba

The Yalumba Wine Company is Australia’s oldest family-owner organisation and has been located for the past 160 years or so in the Barossa Valley of South Australia. We are a small wine company, employing 200 people and our activities include grape growing, winemaking, packaging, distribution, marketing and sales… and sustainability. Over the past decade, we have developed a programme of work dedicated to sustainable winemaking, which includes land stewardship, product stewardship, waste management, environmental citizenship and climate change adaptation and mitigation.  Climate change is pervasive and has an impact on all business activities. A holistic, value chain approach is, in my opinion, imperative to address adaptation and mitigation.  By profession, I am a social ecologist, and I firmly believe that the social-environmental link must be addressed as a coupled social-environmental system.

Yalumba's commitment to sustainable winemaking

Initially, a 4-5 year action research programme was initiated to study how the culture in Yalumba’s management and decision making was impacting resident biodiversity. In particular, we set out to ascertain the level of biodiversity in Yalumba-owned vineyards under different management regimes.  Out of this work grew the framework of Yalumba’s Commitment to Sustainable Winemaking programme, based on industrial ecology and agroecology. The programme was put together in consultation with focus groups from each of Yalumba’s business units.  The relative environmental impacts from each of these business units were identified and a risk assessment was undertaken. This highlighted the benefits of integration across the business units to solve common impacts with common solutions. The impacts were categorised and the pillars of sustainability were identified: 
  • Land Stewardship
  • The Greenhouse Challenge
  • Product Stewardship
  • Waste Management
  • Environmental Citizenship
These pillars are held together by strong governance principles and the whole programme rests on a bed-rock of effective environmental management accounting, information and communications. The sustainability program has been streamlined through lifecycle analysis and a review process..

Sustainability, broader than environment: broader than Yalumba

Yalumba recognises that sustainability is not just about environmental issues but about the ethical behaviour and the allocation of scarce resources amongst competing social, environmental and economic needs.  This can only be effectively achieved through honest, open dialogue and collaboration based on trust. Critically, we realise that we can not deliver sustainability independently; the Yalumba community has to engage affirmatively with their stakeholders, particularly those associated with Yalumba’s value chain.   So, the next iteration of the action research programme is now addressing the urgent matter of effectively and efficiently communicating Yalumba’s commitment to sustainable winemaking with the specific intention of appropriately informing stakeholders so that they can be effectively engaged.  In short, we are now addressing environmental citizenship.

Sharing our experience

Our motto is ‘Share Yalumba’, and this is done willingly and modestly.  We have shared our in-house life cycle analysis with a consortium of New World wine associations from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and North America.  We continue to work co-operatively with the CSIRO (i.e., the Commonwealth and Industrial Research Organisation of Australia). We have worked closely with Prof. Andrew Fearne from the Business School at the University of Kent, UK and work co-operatively with Prof. Adisa Azapegic of the Sustainable Consumption Institute of Manchester University; the South Australian Environment Protection Authority, and the South Australian Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation.  Colleagues at Yalumba also work co-operatively with the Australian and international wine community to promote wine as a food and a catalyst to a lifestyle of health and sustainability – as distinct from a lifestyle of alcohol addiction and mundanity.

Outcomes and outputs

The single most important milestone to look out for is Yalumba’s sustainable competitive advantage as an outcome of its commitment to sustainable winemaking, from the vineyard to the consumer’s table.  We hope that the sustainability of Yalumba, based on profit-making from value-adding that does not impinge on the life options of current and future generations, will serve as a model of sustainability. 

Collaboration opportunities

We have an extensive international network of contacts and collaborators and we help each other make sense of the present and the past, and try to give sense to what needs to happen now to address uncertain future scenarios.  We need an understanding of the arts, the humanities and the sciences.  The greatest challenge of today remains the accurate and complete description of complex systems.  We need to achieve this with an open mind, an open heart and an open soul.  So yes, we are always looking to forge effective and appropriate, that is to say, constructive relationships with stakeholders.

Linked work

I am also currently associated with the C3 or Creative Cultures and Communications research group and the Hawke Research Institute, both of the University of South Australia.  We are working together, sharing ideas and knowledge, on sensemaking and sensegiving in communicating business sustainability.  This project, which is affectionately known as the Y-C3 project, is turning out to be a multi-paradigm inquiry into the effective communication of the meaning and value of ‘sustainability’ at the Yalumba Wine Company. I think it will make an interesting case study!

Big questions for food climate research

Gazing into the distance, I believe the following need to be addressed:
  • Adaptation and transformation strategies for rural communities, rural business and rural landscapes (production/cultural landcapes) as the effects of climate change become increasingly apparent.
  • Redreaming landscapes – this requires insight into (i) the geological, evolutionary and cultural forces that shape the biotic and biotic elements of a landscape; (ii) an understanding of the signs of transformation; and (iii) creativity to imagine possible future scenarios.
  • The role of rural communities in mitigating climate change.
  • The role of positive psychology and positive organisational scholarship in redreaming landscapes.
  • The role of positive psychology and positive organisational scholarship in redreaming landscapes.
  • The impact of climate change on other planetary limits and ecosystem services.
  • The political, economic, social (cultural and spiritual), technological, environmental and legal implications of climate change: arguably, this is the only way we are going to understand ‘emergence’ or the appearance of behaviour that cannot be anticipated from knowledge of the parts of the system alone. Wine, as a complicated socio-symbolic artefact, also has emergent features that may be understood to be ‘self-organising’ – that is, there is no external influence causing the appearance of the emergent features. These features are said to appear ‘spontaneously’ through consilience of social, economic and environmental factors. A key feature essential in the appearance of rich emergent features is local interaction, or the interaction of neighbouring elements within a system.
  • The risk of almost exclusively concentrating on climate change with disproportionately less attention (and emphasis) on other social, environmental and economic categories.

About Cecil

Born in Malta, Cecil  graduated from London University in the field of plant sciences and went on to complement his applied botany degree with a masters in agricultural economics. He furthered his professional training at Deakin University (Australia) where he was awarded a post-graduate honours in rural development and completed his PhD while at Yalumba. Cecil also received a Doctorate of Technology from Deakin University.

Contact details

Dr Cecil S. Camilleri B.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc., B.Litt. (Hons), PhD, DTech.
Sustainable Wine Programmes
Yalumba Wine Company
P.O. Box 10
S.A. 5353

T: 08-8561 3416
F: 08-856 1 3263
M: 0412 794 049
You can email Dr Camilleri direct or visit the Yalumba website for more.
You can read a paper by Dr Camilleri, entitled The Mainstreaming of Biodiversity and Conservation Stewardship at The Yalumba Wine Company, Australia, here. See here for more on Yalumba's business case for sustainability.