Eco Brand Watch: Henry of Pelham

From the C-Suite newsletter: How (and why) the brand spent years weaving sustainable practices into its messaging.

image_6487327 (2)Image courtesy of Beth Bierema

While you sip your glass of vino, you might not be thinking about the environmental impact it had making its way to you. In conventional wine-making practices, fertilizers, pesticides, water usage and CO2 emissions are all responsible for creating unsustainable cycles for our planet – and that’s before the stuff is even packaged.

But according to winery Henry of Pelham, owned by the Speck brothers, when you’ve been working a piece of land for six generations like they have, sustainability takes on new meaning. Which is why they’ve woven in eco-friendly practices throughout their brand, from vineyard to consumer.

In 2006, before “sustainability” became a buzzword, the Niagara-based winery was the first vineyard to be certified as local and sustainable by Local Food Plus, and it has followed Sustainable Winemaking Ontario’s standards since 2004.

In 2017, Henry of Pelham became one of six Ontario wineries to be certified by the Wine Council of Ontario as following sustainable winemaking practices from vine to table. This means that from tank insulation practices, to heating and cooling, wildlife corridors, water usage, energy efficiency and wetland restoration, the company has developed a 360-approach to preserving the land that’s been family-owned for generations. “The Speck family knows the importance of their land, not only based on the hard work of past generations, but for future generations, too,” Tricia Marchand-Watson, marketing manager at the brand, tells strategy.

While the winery was ahead of the sustainability trend, they’re now seeing “a number of wineries in the Niagara region start to focus on implementation of sustainability into their marketing and brand mission,” she says. “Before it was popular within the wine-making industry, Henry of Pelham made sustainability a focal point throughout its communication and facilities.” As eco-friendly practices and processes continue to evolve, the Speck brothers have ensured that Henry of Pelham leads the charge in the industry. “Sustainability has naturally evolved into their marketing strategy over the past few years because it’s integral to the business.”

Henry of Pelham’s market research uncovered the fact that sustainability is more important to its consumers now than ever before. “While there’s interest at every age, we’re finding that millennials and the emerging Gen Z are the ones to keep an eye on when it comes to sustainability,” says Marchand-Watson. “They’re more health and environmentally conscious and they expect more from their brands when it comes to innovation, packaging, the ingredients in the products they’re consuming and investing in, and sustainability.”

To create awareness of its efforts in this space, Henry of Pelham launched SustainableWineON.com in 2021, which provides consumers with a deeper understanding of the practices it’s honed, including certification explanations, contributions to the economy and community, and information on the estate – which is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The company “also became members of the Porto Protocol in the same year, which comprises of a global wine community, who collectively share their knowledge and solutions to bring climate action to life,” says Marchand-Watson.

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In its newly launched Kick the Dirt initiative – open to the public beginning July 8 – the Speck brothers will personally tour guests through the vineyard and winery as they discuss history and the importance of sustainable practices.

“We took a different approach with this tour,” explains Marchand-Watson. “We could have scripted it, but the words came from the heart, through passion, dedication and storytelling. [Guests] learn first-hand about sustainability, tasting wines right from where they were grown. For the Speck brothers, it was about coming to ‘kick the dirt’ in the country, and getting your hands dirty while doing so.”

To further communicate that sustainability is at the forefront of the brand, Henry of Pelham focuses on consistency within its messaging and marketing. Every asset that’s released includes the Sustainable Winemaking Ontario logo, whether that’s on the wine label itself, food and drink ads, or ads featured at Dundas Square.

Another important marketing tactic? Old-fashioned authenticity. “When you speak with the Speck brothers directly, you can feel their passion about ensuring sustainability is at the focus of the business,” says the marketer, with co-owner Daniel Speck adding that “by drinking one 750 ml bottle of Henry of Pelham, [consumers] preserve one square meter of Ontario’s greenbelt in the Niagara Peninsula for another year.”

With sustainable practices woven into the fabric of Henry of Pelham, consumers are given the opportunity to help take care of the planet – and their palates. “We make sure the land is in the best shape it can be so it’ll grow the best grapes, and ultimately, make the best wine,” says co-owner Paul Speck.