Wines in the Wild – Bold Flavours Meet Sustainable Wine Farming  

09

MAY, 2024

By Nick Findlay

WWF South Africa made its return to this year’s Reforest Fest with another Conservation Wine Tent experience, where we celebrated wineries, on a journey in environmental and ethical production of fine wines through a series of activations – Wines in the Wild. Lasting impressions were left on taste buds and conversation was fostered, the core theme being sustainable winemaking.

Some tasting experiences were held (in the Wild) that showcased the produce of 6 innovative, progressive wineries within the Western Cape, who are all uniquely diversifying wine production and cultivating a more sustainable future for agriculture in South Africa.

Joining hands for a greener tomorrow

Greenpop’s Reforest Fest is a celebration of restoration that not only serves as a vessel for community-based reforestation, but embraces environmental responsibility and the implementation of eco-conscious practice from all angles. We strive to make each Reforest Fest as close to a zero-waste festival as possible through decisive, conducive decision-making that adheres to the overarching theme of environmental conservation and sustainability. This eco party has a purpose, and Greenpop’s core values have been woven into each and every component of the festival, making it that easy for you to Treevolutionise your consumption.

One example of how we implement these standards into the framework of Reforest Fest is through the carefully curated selection of food and drink on offer at the festival. To the best of our ability at the time, we ensure that, every option on the menu is locally and seasonally sourced, sustainable, plant-based (as far as possible) and delicious! While the criteria could be considered as restrictive to some, it provides space for incredibly unique food and drink experiences with a greater focus on sustainability to be enjoyed. This in turn enables festival goers to explore tastes and flavours they may not have encountered before, as the world of Wines in the Wild so effectively showcased.

Greenpop Wellness Warehouse

A Thriving Industry and Cultural Staple 

Considering the prevalence of wine drinking in South Africa –  and how essential it is to any celebration, dinner party or occasion – as well as the quality of wine that we’re predisposed to, it is no wonder that two of our largest agricultural exports are wine and grapes. The scale of wine farming and production in SA is massive, with an estimated 89,000 hectares of South African land being consumed by vineyards, according to Wines of South Africa. Hence, certain agricultural practices have been developed to cater towards concerns such as efficiency and obtaining mass yields, in turn degrading the natural ecosystems that surround these countryside cellars, by use of toxic pesticides, water waste, and consequent soil erosion. 

Reforest Fest 2024 WWF Conservation Champions

Photograph: Shari Lee Thompson

WWF’s Conservation Champions 

WWF is an organisation we draw consistent inspiration from, who are renowned for their efforts in preserving our natural resources and environments. They started the WWF Conservation Champions initiative in 2004, and are doing an outstanding job of encouraging wine farms to conserve the environments they operate in by switching to environmentally-friendly farming methods. Shelly Fuller, Sustainable Agriculture Programme manager at WWF-SA, stated that:

“The Conservation Champion Programme recognises farmers who go even further in their commitment to biodiversity-friendly and regenerative farming practices, conserving their natural areas and continually improving their water and energy efficiencies.”

We were thrilled to collaborate once more and reintroduce the Conservation Wine Tent as a part of the weekend’s proceedings, which centred conversation around sustainable winemaking. 

Wines in the Wild celebrated cutting-edge vinos from Strandveld, SkipSkop, Boland Cellars, Bosman Family Vineyards, Van Hunks Drinks, and  Lubanzi Wines, a roster of winemakers who are all uniquely pioneering alternative, more ethical, means of production. The experience consisted of three separate tastings: the Conservation Wines Activation at the Conservation Wine Tent, a tasting at the Sunday Harvest Feast, and one final chocolate, honey & wine pairing to conclude the weekend’s wine tent festivities. These bespoke tastings allowed festival goers to engage with the wines on offer, chat with the wine-makers present, and awaken their taste buds with a selection of delicious reds, whites and blends, learning more about the potential of sustainable wine-making and the power of eco-conscious consumer choices.

Reforest Fest 2024

Photographer: Christian Khayo

Conservation Wine Activation

Operating for a couple of hours collectively, throughout the entirety of Reforest Fest 2024, the two Conservation Wine Tent tastings received a flurry of attention and intrigue. Flocks of enthusiasts, recreational fanatics and casual consumers alike all made their way to the delightful canopy under which numerous sips were savoured and different flavours dissected, with a keenness to learn about the future of winemaking in South Africa. The first tasting took place on Saturday afternoon, which showcased a selection of wines from 4 of the celebrated farms accompanied by informative discussions around the intricacies behind the making of each bottle. The roster included Boland Cellar, Lubanzi Wines, Strandveld and SkipSkop

The Conservation Wine Tent provided the perfect opportunity to learn more about innovative and progressive wine production, while getting a taste of the fruits it has to offer. While the concept of ‘best practice’ looks different in different circumstances, the common ground between these farms lies in their shared dedication to utilising regenerative and environmentally friendly farming methods, conserving their land’s natural areas and bettering water and waste management. Hearing about, and more then this, tasting these delicious wines, empowered the festival goers, to vote with their wallets, and better influence the direction our wine industry is taking.

Reforest Fest 2024

Photograph: Shari Lee Thompson

Sunday Harvest Feast 

We lavished in the local & seasonal produce of the Overberg region on Sunday afternoon with Kolossal Hospitality. Chef Bridget Bartelmann joined us for the second consecutive year at Reforest Fest, with an array of spoils at the much anticipated Sunday Harvest Feast. Guests lined up for the buffet, plates piling with a variety of tasty delicacies, from falafels, pies, cheeses and salads to brownies, honeycomb and mouth-watering chocolate mousse pots. These dishes were carefully paired by a range of refreshing wines from Lubanzi Wines, Van Hunks Drinks, Bosman Wines, and Boland Cellar

The feast celebrated the value and fresh flavours of local produce, ethically sourced ingredients and low impact food and drinks. What better way to lap up a hearty meal made with love, from ingredients grown with love, than with a serving of tasters from WWF’s Conservation Champions. Truly a match made in heaven! Through informative wine cards, these meticulously paired wines highlighted specific components of each meal and each farm’s conservation efforts, allowing festival goers to understand the very nature and positive impact of their Easter Sunday lunch. 

Reforest Fest 2024

Photograph: Shari Lee Thompson

Chocolate, Honey & Wine Pairings – A Symphony of Flavour 

The second Conservation Wine Tent tasting occurred on Easter Sunday where festival goers were treated to a range of carefully curated, decadent honey and chocolate pairings, courtesy of the Overberg Honey Company and Wellness Warehouse respectively, that elevated the wines from Boland Cellar, Strandveld and SkipSkop to the next level. With a locally sourced selection of raw honey courtesy of the Overberg Honey Company,  and decadent dark chocolates from Wellness Warehouse, the tasting was a flavour explosion and a wonderful way to wind down after a busy weekend of planting and dancing. 

The presence of The Overberg Honey Company and Wellness Warehouse aligned perfectly with the weekend’s wine proceedings, in both the complimentary bitter and sweet tastes of their produce as well as their alignment of sustainable values and conceptual business models. Being able to explore such satisfying and dynamic flavour pairings courtesy of producers that are all individually pioneering sustainable practice in their respective fields gives us tremendous influence as consumers, as well as freedom.

We were ecstatic to present a lovely arrangement of vegan dark chocolate and truffles courtesy of Wellness Warehouse, that embodies the essence of RFF’s narrative on food and drink, from the production process to the fair trade policies. The cocoa-dense dark chocolates on hand paired wonderfully with the richer reds, and tasters sipped and snacked with delight while remaining conscious. 

Did you know that bees need to visit approximately 2 million flowers to produce one jar of honey? 

cape honey bee

The subsequent pollination that occurs from honey bees travelling to so many flowers for food is almost incomprehensible! Each spoonful was savoured with newfound admiration for this arduous process and the Overberg Honey Company’s delicate creations, as well as their hard-working bees. We left the tasting tent reassured that we do have a choice, and that our consumption can be guided rather than restricted. We are capable of letting our values dictate our consumption, which in turn can shift consumer behaviour and disrupt destructive societal trends, it’s just up to us to put our money where our mouth is. 

Lubanzi Wines 

Named after a wandering dog and built on a shared vision along with collaborative passion, Lubanzi is the love story of two exchange students who fell for South Africa and its fruitful vineyards. Charlie Brain and Walker Brown officially moved to SA in 2016 and launched what we now know as Lubanzi, a progressive, hands on, philanthropic wine company and social enterprise that intends to produce high-quality, accessible wine while simultaneously giving back to the country that stole their hearts. 

Reforest Fest 2024

Lara Farbinger from Lubanzi Wines, seen at Reforest Fest 2024. Photograph: Jessie Leverzencie

Amongst conversation under the tasting tent, Lubanzi US sales manager Lara Farbinger mentioned that “Sustainable winemaking is a big part of what we do,” while explaining the enterprise’s dry farming approach that uses no irrigation. Grapes are all handpicked and often end up in a can, a controversial mode of presentation for top-tier wines that was motivated by the lesser carbon emissions required to produce cans as opposed to glass bottles. Lara also elaborated on Lubanzi’s community initiatives, saying that:

“50% of all our net profits go to an NGO in South Africa called the ‘Pebbles Project’, who we work alongside closely and develop programmes with”

Strandveld Winery 

Africa’s southernmost vineyard and winery is situated near Cape Agulhas in the fledgling Elim wine ward and works with a fairly unusual climate, hence the name of one of their famous white blends, Adamastor, which was named after the mythological god of storms.  A combination of gale-force Atlantic winds, rolling mist and below-average temperatures along with rich and diverse soil types, constitute limited but rewarding yields. Adapting to their unique environment accordingly, Strandveld has harnessed a distinct feel and developed a wide range of blends along with rich Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Pinot Noir varieties that their fertile soils afford. 

Reforest Fest 2024

Sonja Martin from Strandveld Wines, seen at Reforest Fest 2024. Photograph: Shari Lee Thomspon

Strandveld Brand Manager Sonja Martin, who led the Conservation Wine Tent through a tasting journey full of stories and sips on Saturday afternoon, explained how the tent is a great initiative to get like-minded folks to identify with brands that speak to their hearts, conscience and beliefs”

“Respect for nature, and working with it and not against it, is the only way to produce the best possible grapes”, states Sonja. Along with their deep knowledge of the history, fauna and flora of the land they occupy, and a sincere love for the South African wine industry, Strandveld and their neighbouring farmers are a part of Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area. The collective strives to protect and nurture the biodiverse, complex ecosystems and water networks within the Agulhas Plain. 

Bosman Family Vineyards 

Pioneers of various sustainable winemaking techniques in South Africa, the Bosman family have been growing grapes on their Wellington-based farm for over 200 years. The family consistently manufactured wines on the estate until 1957, which marked the beginning of a 50-year-long hiatus to focus on their vine nursery and propagating cuttings for the wine industry of the Western Cape. Returning to business as usual in 2007, the award-winning wine farm has since been paying tribute to its legacy by way of their ever-expanding agricultural progressions. 

Reforest Fest 2024

Photograph: Jessie Leverzencie

With strong ties to the surrounding community and devotion to sustaining the environment which they occupy, the Bosman belief is that:

“Our natural environment is integral to the sustainability of our community, and the responsibility for pro-active conservation rests with each one of us.”

Dubbed ‘Editor’s Choice of Winery of the Year’ by Platter Guide in 2024, Bosman vineyards have been recognised for their proficiency in their balance of quality winemaking and ethical practice.

“26% of our farm is owned by our farm community and we have numerous projects within the community to advance empowerment including a creche, aftercare programme, clinic, choir, karate and dance classes” explains Bosman wine sales specialist Ruan Olivier.

Their extensive repertoire of conservation initiatives includes: utilising sheep for weed control, brewing tea to enrich soils, using gravity for drip irrigation methods, obtaining 50% of electricity from solar panels, and neglecting the use of insecticides. 

SkipSkop Wines

Working with a humble array of small-scale vineyards in the Overberg region, with farms in both Napier and the Klein Karoo, SkipSkop Wines is committed to producing fine wines while paying homage to traditional winemaking techniques, characterised by little exterior interference. Winemaker Jonathan de Thierry of SkipSkop takes an honest approach to his production process, recognising both the value of and need for growing grapes from vineyards that receive minimal intervention. Possessing a raw passion for quality wine, the agricultural process, and the community and culture surrounding South African winemaking, de Thierry is highly concerned about the methodology that yields his grapes and how his agricultural techniques influence the land he farms.  

Reforest Fest 2024 conservation wines

Photograph: Jessie Leverzencie

When asked about the idea of ‘best practice’, de Thierry enthusiastically elaborated how this concept is translated through multiple of the farm’s policies,

We spray the vines with natural copper and sulphur sprays and tolerate weeds in the vineyard as long as they don’t choke the vines. We encourage wildlife in the vineyard, a colony of bats feed on the insects and a sizable population of guinea fowl feed on the abundant snails in the vineyard”.

He also shared Skipskop’s philosophy on winemaking, stating how “it’s not just about maximising yield per hectare but focusing on quality, and it is up to wine producers to produce quality characterful wine using natural practices”.

Boland Cellar

Built on collaboration, Boland Cellar takes pride in South Africa’s flourishing wine industry and recognises the potential of producing truly fine wine through working together. Each and every component of Boland Cellar’s production process has been coordinated according to a set of ethical standards that are of the utmost importance. From ecosystem conservation initiatives and the farming techniques of their 40 different producers – including precision irrigation, biological pest control and clearing alien vegetation – to waste mitigation in the cellar and reducing carbon footprint with more sustainable packaging methods, Boland Cellar ensures that they are farming as responsibly as they can. 

Reforest Fest 2024 conservation wines

Photograph: Shari Lee Thompson

On the topic of sustainability, Anneen Du Toit, manager of International Sales and Marketing at Boland, keenly elaborated on the Cellar’s general code of ethics, stating “We also focus on other areas of sustainability like ethical trade and labour, and economic sustainability for the farmers, farmworkers and their communities”. Boland Cellar is producing some of the finest wine in the Cape while simultaneously following some of the most progressive winemaking procedures. When asked what the Conservation Wine Tent means to the wine farm, Anneen explained that “It is a chance to showcase our projects and walk the talk with consumers, also to create awareness of the important conservation work that is being done.” 

Van Hunks Drinks

Specialising in sparkling beverages, Van Hunks Drinks began their refreshing journey as recently as 2020, making them the youngest champions of the lot. Along with Stellenbosh-based, 12th generation winemaker Matthew Krone, Van Hunks founder Tom Gamborg set out to “put the spark back into sparkling”, and thus the infamous Van Hunks Brut and Brut Rosé Cap Classiques were born. Drawing inspiration from the vibrant subculture of spirits, Gamborg seeks to bring some life and energy into the sparkling wine world and relieve some degree of stagnancy. While doing so, Van Hunks strives to find “the perfect balance between agricultural production and environmental conservation”.  

Reforest Fest 2024 conservation wines

Photograph: Jessie Leverzencie

In sourcing a suitable farm to partner with on this fresh new escapade, the minimisation of carbon emissions and footprints were prioritised criteria. Van Hunks found their home amongst the healthy vineyards of Stellenbosch and have since monitored and maintained a standard of sustainable practice, focusing on advancing sustainable farming systems, hand harvesting grapes, water conservation and pesticide free growing. Bubbling with enthusiasm and captivated by the folklore of South African winemaking, Van Hunks is an exciting new addition to the conscious wine farming ecosystem of the Western Cape. 

Food for Thought

We were left inspired by the incredible work of the above-mentioned Conservation Champions, who have reminded us that while big industry shifts are needed, revolutionary steps by smaller (and bigger) wineries have the power to make a real impact, shift conversations and inspire change. Individual responsibility and action also still hold power and it’s up to us to hold our consumption to a standard, and support wineries, that are transforming winemaking in South Africa, one sip at a time! 

“Live Life Well” From the Inside Out

“Live Life Well” From the Inside Out

“Live Life Well.” What images does this phrase bring up in your head? Greenpop and Wellness Warehouse revamped Reforest Fest’s Food Village with a focus on sustainable, ethical, local, and seasonal produce.

Greenpop Foundation NPC is a registered non-profit organisation. Registration Number (NPO): 151-411 NPO.