Tasting Wine and Talking Conservation at Reforest Fest 2023
With wine being so deeply rooted in our identity, even for those who don’t drink it, it becomes onerous to avoid. Tied to many beautiful and culturally rich moments, wine farms are used for more than the wine itself. Locally, our treasured Cape Winelands are utilized for things such as fine dining, fruit picking, adventuring, markets, sports and escaping into the sublime scenery of vineyards and surrounding mountains.
Both the people and resources associated with wine farming form part of the Western Cape’s agricultural sector and play a large role in supporting our economy. From baring high-quality fruits, citrus, dairy products, grains, multi-scale stock and vegetables, our diverse and rich land aids in various social and economic successes as well as challenges.
A unique wine tasting with WWF Conservation Champions
Although choosing a 750ml glass bottle of wine off the shelf doesn’t seem as if it would lead to the decimation of the world, the wine and agriculture industry is silently degrading natural surroundings. Our beloved whites, reds, and rosés, to to name a few, bring such abundant experiences, as well as deleterious effects. Unknowingly and more often than not unspoken about is the negative impact this industry imposes.
We recently held Greenpop’s annual Reforest Fest where we, alongside WWF South Africa, embraced the need for the conversation surrounding the shift to sustainable and environmentally responsible farming practices. We hosted our very own wine tasting in partnership with the respectable and impressionable WWF Conservation Champions, wine brands that according to WWF are “farming with nature, not against it”. Some of the wine farms featured during our tasting included Strandveld, LOSTBOY, Warwick, Boland Cellar and Skipskop Wines.
In the spirit of the festival, we had an overarching theme of environmental responsibility which included an emphasis on our consumer choices, as well as on eco-tourism. The Conservation Wine Tent provided festival goers with the chance to learn how wine-making and sustainability can work hand-in-hand. It also allowed us to place a spotlight on the richly diverse, world-class wineries the Western Cape boasts, which also happen to be doing amazing work for the environment.
Each of the five chosen wine farms encompasses the meaning of conservation and sustainability within the wine industry. The farms were selected as a means to educate others and relay the story of their sustainable agriculture journey and the reputable farming practices they have implemented.
To accompany these notable wines, we had Honest Chocolate, an artisanal chocolate brand based in Cape Town, join our Conservation Wine Tent on Easter Sunday and offer a chocolate & wine pairing. Pairing wines such as Warwick and Boland Cellar with meticulously selected taste-testing chocolate from the Honest Chocolate range, made for a beautiful and memorable way to bring sustainable brands together.
A wine with a unique story, LOST BOY Wines is an inspiring winery farmed in the slightly cooler region of Cape Agulhas, whose heart is filled to the brim with love and a passion for wildlife. Their unapologetic quirky character originates from the founder Trevor DeRuisè’s love for both the finer things in life and natural wildlife. Merging these two loves into a “passion for purpose” led to the creation of Wines for the Wild. An initiative pairing each of LOST BOY’s wines with a particular wildlife conservation project – from the conservation of African Penguins to Pangolins and the Cape Leopard. What’s more is that for each case of their wine sold, a portion of the funds is donated to the selected project.
Trevor DeRuisè, the founder of LOST BOY Wines, explains that his love for wine and its production method stems from it being “the only artform that relies almost exclusively on the natural world”. When asked how he viewed the responsibility of the wine industry in terms of agricultural practices, he responded that:
“The wine industry has the biggest international platform of all agricultural sectors in the country. With that, the wine industry carries the most burden in shaping and reimagining the way conservation and farming fit together not only here but globally”. – Trevor DeRuisè, founder of LOST BOY Wines
LOST BOY Wines’ remarkable effort and involvement in conservation most certainly stems from DeRuisè farming mindset. He elaborates that “with every vineyard, I work with my primary focus is never the size of the crop. Rather, it’s the harmony of the land it’s planted on. I think this philosophy is key in crafting beautiful wines”.
South Africa’s southernmost winery, located in an unusual climate near the chilled air of Cape Agulhas, Strandveld Vineyards forms part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, surrounded by masses of fauna and flora spanning the Overberg region. This unique climate see winds brushing off the Atlantic, clouds of salty mist and rich mineral soils.
With the early historical discovery by Portuguese sailors, the mature land proposes a distinctive terroir used to grow sturdy and brawny vineyards. With 80 hectares of vineyards, the production of impeccable and a broad range of wines are produced in the wine farm contemporary cellar.
Strandveld forms part of the Nuewjaars Wetlands SMA, a collection of 25 privately owned properties and local communities situated in the area. The initiative aims to protect wetlands and their current population within the Cape Agulhas Plain and align with the triple-bottom-line principle: balancing integrity with the environment, human welfare, and economic effectiveness.
Speaking to Sales Director Shaun MvVey from Strandveld on where their love for producing wine originates, he said:
“The uniqueness of the vineyards and the Elim wine ward is the cooler climate, relative to other wine growing areas in South Africa, due to the constant Atlantic winds. These winds keep yields down and prevent diseases by keeping the grapes dry, and ensure each vintage is a unique blend of what nature provides and we can create.” – Shaun MvVey, Sales Director at Strandveld Vineyards
Their conservation efforts extend to environmental farming practices and include acts such as removing alien species and the implementation of buffer zones, in efforts to increase the biodiversity within the area.
“This collaborative community is the first of its kind in Southern Africa, all members first agreed to title deed restrictions in ensuring the continuance of sustainable conservation principles. Accordingly, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has already expressed an interest in the Nuwejaars Wetlands SMA as a working example of its Man and Biosphere Programme.”– Shaun MvVey, Sales Director at Strandveld Vineyards.
Warwick is a wine farm that owes itself to the land and its heritage. Their wise and deep roots uphold values that honour all elements of the wine farm, from the environment to the people involved. Working in a way that is best for the land, Warwick aims to balance the nurturing of their vineyards and surrounding biodiversity, while sustainably producing grapes for their wines.
This appreciation for the land they farm contributes to their conservation efforts through conscious water use and utilizing cover crops to encourage the growth of bacteria. More so, they avoid damaging insecticides, but rather embrace nature’s predators! Warwick carries out these acts of conservation to “achieve long-term harmony rather than short-term gains that would compromise the natural environment”.
Warwick Wine Estate fosters their relationship with their farming land through a radiant mindset of respect and admiration for the resources that are used, which feeds into their daily practices and conversations.
“We view our wines as the result of interplay between man, vine, and environment. It’s this cognisance of our environment that leads us to talk rather of our heritage, as opposed to simply our ‘history’. Because heritage is not just a snapshot of the past; it’s a responsibility carried into the future. We realise that what stands here today is something inherited, and therefore something to be nurtured and protected for the generations of friends and family that come after us.” – Warwick Wine Estate
The youngster of the Overberg wine farm region, Skipskop a small-scale and handcrafted winery that with the fewest manipulations, produces outstanding wines with little sulfur, both in Napier and the Swartberg mountains in the Klein Karoo. These vineyards are watered and maintained through local spring water from the neighbouring mountains, using their local resources as carefully as possible.
Speaking to winemaker Jonathan de Thierry from Skipskop, we dove into how their wine farm actively pursues measures to positively impact nature.
“Our aim is to produce wine from our vineyards using the minimum intervention possible – we spray the vines with natural copper and sulphur sprays. We tolerate weeds in the vineyard as long as they don’t choke the vines – we use a weed-eater at regular times to control this.
We encourage wildlife in the vineyard and have a thriving population of tortoises and porcupines along the small river that traverses the Napier vineyard. We also have a colony of bats that feed on the insects. Being within the Napier municipal boundary also attracts a sizeable bird population which means we need to put up protective nets when the grapes ripen.
The vines are irrigated by an ancient municipal leiwater systems that come from the mountains above Napier and the natural clay dam we have built for winter storage has attracted a colony of ducks and geese. We also have a sizable population of guinea fowl who feed on the abundant snails in the vineyard.
Our vineyard in the Voorbaat valley in the Klein Karoo outside the town of Ladismith is a truly spectacular setting in a valley fed by clear mountain water emanating from the high Swartberg mountains. Cape Leopard and other animals are known to roam in the valley.” – Jonathan de Thierry, winemaker at SkipSop Wines.
Boland Cellar is a wine farm close to our Greenpop hearts, they are a pledge partner of ours and have continuously proven their commitment to sustainable farming and the bolstering of natural ecosystems. Residing near Paarl in the Boland region, the wine farm has a particular focus on collaboration and togetherness, more particularly the partnership of winemaking and nature.
Their conscious and environmental practices include actively focusing on reforestation through their partnership with Greenpop’s Forests for Life programme. More so they implement water-saving techniques, biological pest control and focus on soil-related health and preparation in their vineyard practices.
Speaking to manager Anneen du Toit from Boland Cellar, we chatted about land management practices and the benefits they have found on their wine farm:
“By understanding the vineyard plant and its water need through the year, and measuring water which gets applied for irrigation, up to 30% of the water used for general irrigation, could be saved and utilized elsewhere. […] Controlled alien clearing on farms, contributes positively to water retention in general, but together with this practice, proper replanting of indigenous trees is important. This attracts and sustains wildlife, birds and bees. In this process, natural wetlands are also kept maintained.” – Anneen du Toit, Manager Boland Cellar
“Over the past 10 years since applying deliberately sustainable practices in vineyards, it became second nature. Initially, the concepts had to be explained and the first thing when farmers get approached with different practices they used, is the question: “What is there in for me”. We quickly deviated from that mindset, and sustainable practices are now the first point of departure prior to establishing a new vineyard.”- Anneen du Toit, Manager Boland Cellar
WWF is an inspiring organisation that is known for its efforts in protecting our natural resources and environments. They started the WWF Conservation Champions initiative, and are doing an outstanding job of encouraging wine farms to conserve the natural environment, by switching to environmentally-friendly farming methods.
The WWF Conservation Champions is a true testament to what is possible when industries change their practices to promote a greener tomorrow and showcases the work done by a collection of environmentally-minded wineries, heading in the right direction for future generations.
Following a structure of voluntary membership, wineries are eager to better their farming practices to make them more biodiversity-friendly. WWF assist them to formulate appropriate management plans, realistic targets, and implement action-based initiatives concerning their wine farms’ environmental risks.
This initiative in turn both protects biodiversity within South Africa’s wine lands but also sets an inspirational example for other wine farms, both locally and globally, and encourages consumers to invest their money into feasible and green industries. The wine industry forms a significant part of our South African culture and economy and thus such an ethical initiative ensures the wine industry has a sustainable future ahead of it.
A few closing words from our Director, Misha Teasdale
We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the planet, rich in biodiversity, culture and landscapes. More than this we are surrounded by exquisite wines which compete on a world stage. Since the modernisation of agriculture has been normalised and due to the ever-expanding footprint of agricultural landscapes, nature has been under attack. It doesn’t have to be this way. I firmly believe that if you produce wine, you have a love for nature and the natural world. It’s part of your DNA. Your art is in those vines, those hills, those winds.
Conventional practices have blindsided our understanding and approach to the way we engage with industries so directly reliant on ecosystem services. Only, these services are the backbone to not only these industries’ survival, but all industries.
Greenpop has, since our inception, partnered up with wine farms challenging the traditional and historic ways of farming. Seeing that people care so dearly about wine, perhaps forming deep partnerships with those who are making meaningful strides in the industry could allow us to play a small, but significant role in creating behavioural changes. There is an ongoing shift within the wine industry towards a more sustainable and ethical mindset and being able to aid in this great change towards a world of harmony, is something that we can be a part of.
We view working in union with the WWF Conservation Wine Champions label as an opportunity to both celebrate the transformative work they do for nature, and educate our audience in a way that they can better understand the valuable role they play in changing this industry. Consumers invest in wines through the only way we know how, our wallets. Showing interest in the farms that care so deeply and are not only talking about, but rather actively implementing changes with nature as a clear focus, is a real game changer. We have the potential to encourage consumers to spend their money consciously and wisely and make their vote towards a more sustainable wine future.
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Greenpop Foundation NPC is a registered non-profit organisation. Registration Number (NPO): 151-411 NPO.