Celebrating Conservation Wines with WWF South Africa
By Scone Malone
During Greenpop’s recent Reforest Fest 2022 in Walker Bay, WWF South Africa hosted a wine tasting with four very special wine farms, with the aim to shift the narrative around South African wine culture, creatively exploring the nature-based and regenerative wine farms by celebrating the wine through a multi-sensory tasting experience.
For better or for worse, life is full of choices. We get to choose how we react in any moment, most of us get to choose what we put in our bodies, and the fortunate amongst us even get to choose where we live, and all these choices have consequences. It would thus stand to reason that we should carefully consider these choices we face and try to choose wisely. We should try to make choices that are of the greatest benefit to ourselves as well as not being of detriment to our fellow inhabitants of this beautiful planet.
This is easier said than done – not only because we do not always know the full consequence of our choices, but moreover since there are so many others to consider. We ought to consider the humans around us, certainly, but also the rest of the life around us in this complex, delicate ecosystem we call the biosphere.
As consumers in this post-modern society, we vote with our wallets. The purchases we make directs the flow of capital in this so-called late-stage capitalism reality, and as such, directly influences the distribution of resources and decides who are ultimately the winners. This gives us a great chance to make the right, informed choices – and when in comes to wine in South Africa, WWF’s Conservation Champion Program makes it easy for us.
During Greenpop’s recent Reforest Fest 2022 in Walker Bay, WFF hosted a wine tasting with four very special wine farms, with the aim to shift the narrative around South African wine culture, creatively exploring the nature-based and regenerative wine farms by celebrating the wine through a multi-sensory tasting experience. The event revolved around 800 people, young and old, coming together to plant over 5000 trees on one day, highlighting the ripple effect that can be achieved when like-minded individuals get together. Furthermore, it showed the powerful potential we all have to drive positive change through restoration work, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to end off such a day by tasting some exquisite wines.
Each of the four wine farms present at the event were chosen for a specific reason. Local stalwart Lomond Wines was the first South African Wine Farm to enter into a Conservation Servitude with Fauna and Flora International to ensure the long-term preservation of the critically endangered Elim Ferricrete Fynbos and Overberg Sandstone Fynbos which occurs on the slopes of Ben Lomond. They also signed their property to be a Protected Environment alongside established private nature reserves within the region, creating a protected area network of 12 500 hectares within the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy.
Speaking to Hannes Meyer, the winemaker for Lomond Wines, he says: “Each vintage of wine, what is in that bottle, is what we get from nature. There is no reason why farming and nature can’t be integrated. I don’t know of one wine farm that does not want to protect and conserve, which is great. I think the South African wine industry in the greater picture is actually doing their part to protect nature.” Highlighting the importance of broad conservation initiatives, he says “We see great results from investing in restoration, farming this way we see beautiful, beautiful fynbos coming back. We want to grow the best possible grapes with the lowest impact.”
Lost Boy is a recent addition to the South African wine industry. Hosted at Lomond, this small-batch wine is handmade at every step of the process. Although new, Lost Boy has worked its way into the Lomond Wines ethos and gone further by contributing a significant portion of each sale to conservation in the area. Speaking to Trevor DeRuisé, the founder of Lost Boy, he elaborates that “If you want to make good wine you must take care of your vineyards, your environment, your workers, everything that is in your community must be taken care of. And the most important part of that is your environment.” Discussing what brought him here, he says “The wine industry here in South Africa has a lot of eyes on it from other parts of the world, and there is a responsibility for the wine industry here to be leaders in conservation and show the world what it’s all about, to show the world how good these wines can be. Back home these green philosophies are very big and talked about, but I’ve never seen anything like the conservation work being done here; the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservation blew me away.”
Mike Fabricius from Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy gets into the practical side: “It’s paramount how we balance the economics and tourism of wine and agriculture, and how we complement it with conservation.” They have been working to create nature corridors for seed dispersers and pollinators. Fabricius also speaks on the need for alien clearing, eradicating invasive plants, and points out that wine can help pay for conservation, whilst creating jobs and also planning their work carefully. “With Greenpop, one of the most amazing things is that they are making informed decisions on where they are reforesting and rehabilitating affected areas, where humans have had an impact by removing natural forest and also basing the areas of rehabilitation and planting trees on evidence of where forests have historically occurred. Pairing it with research is one of the great ways that we can make informed conservation decisions in the landscape to the benefit of the ecosystems, and to the benefit of the people that are the custodians of the landscape.”
Wine farms find themselves in a unique, strong position to make a difference, given the size of the land the preside over. The next farm was Boland Cellar. As a winery, they take their custodianship of nature very seriously, and all their farming practices are adopted and executed with one goal in mind – environmentally sustainable wine grape production. Anneen Du Toit states “Given the increased pressure on our natural resources and biodiversity we have responsibility to get involved and take ownership of ethical farming practices and sustainability. Making wine is just the vehicle we use to support and educate consumers on reforestation and undoubtedly bears witness to the great collaboration between Boland Cellar and nature. Our collaboration with Greenpop and the reforestation programme is only one of the practices we have implemented from a conservation farming initiative to do our part.”
She goes on to talk about the role all of us play: “Consumers are becoming drivers for the change in farming practices. They demand traceability and biodiversity/ climate-friendly products and farming approaches,” and as such our choices is setting the tone for more sustainable, regenerative practices – a healthier planet. “In the ideal world we want climate-smart farming, traceability and producing more with less.”
Boland Cellar has also teamed up with The Bee Effect to bolster their crops, but more vitally to ensure the resilience of bee populations. Eve Puttergill tells us that the “primary objectives being increasing forage quantity and quality for honeybees and other pollinators. Boland Cellar approached The Bee Effect as they wished to contribute to a tangible project that actually makes a difference for honeybees. So along with the launch of their Melita wine range that showcases honeybees, we hooked up with Greenpop and created the Trees for Bees pledge Fund, named Boland Trees for Bees in honour of the role Boland Cellar played as a founding partner. Coming together with Greenpop ticked all the boxes for me personally, as a partner for a project that would make a difference.”
The final wine farm was Spier– an actual WWF Conservation Champion. Spier has been doing remarkable conservation work and has been practising regenerative agriculture for many years. They are known to be sustainable leaders in South Africa – 100% of their water waste is reused, 98% of the solid waste is reused on the farm, and all is recycled on-site. They also host a number of successful projects, like Growing for Good which teaches previously disadvantaged people how to grow food and become subsistence farmers with good practice, innovative Farmer Angus with his bio-dynamic farming, the Living Soils project with Woolworths and the Tree-preneurs project, headed by Lesley Joemat, that has planted 1.2 million trees to date.
Speaking to Anthony Kock, Spier’s white winemaker with a history in bio-dynamic farming, he explains that “of the 609 hectares on the farm, only 18 hectares has vineyard on it – 400 hectares is rehabilitated land, having cleaned up the river corridor and all alien vegetations has been removed. We’ve got 180 hectares of fynbos that has been reinstated on the farm. We really are trying, we really are involved in sustainable practices from the farming point of view and from the business point of view.”
In talking about how to shift consumer behaviour, Anthony says “We are trying to get the soils better, so that we can produce better wine, and obviously be as sustainable as possible. From a commercial point of view it can be a little bit challenging. We have all these projects, and are active on social media. We have also changed our labels to show the Growing for Good logo so that people can see it and then go read about it online. As a proud WWF Conservation Champion, all our wines have the sugarbird and protea logo in the back label. But it is difficult to change the mindsets of people locally and abroad.”
That being said, things have changed dramatically over the past few years. “We produce about 13 million litres of wine a year, but they’re not all our own grapes. We’ve got about 16 growers that grow grapes for us, and about 35 wineries that produce wine for us – but they have to adhere to our rules.” He goes on to explain all the protocols and independent bodies that they use to ensure that these other farms also stick to sustainable farming practices, thereby spreading the good practices across the wine region. In this way, they are making real change in the perceptions of how things ought to be done, and can be done. “Our end goal is to be 100% sustainable,” which includes waste, renewable energy, going chemical-free and plenty more.
Shelley Fuller from WWF continues this thought: “The days of convenience purchases and intense consumerism is over – I think the pandemic has really taught us how disconnected we are from nature, and how we are damaging the planet at our own detriment. It’s really important to keep the narrative – think about every purchase, how you spend your money, what you buy, the farms that you support with your purchase, how those products were made, how they were packaged – just remain informed. Ask the questions, how was it made, who benefits from this, is this packaging necessary. The wine industry (and in fact all agriculture) relies so heavily on nature, and if you don’t look after it, then you won’t have the backbone of your business, never mind society. The role these are playing, and as custodians of the critical patches of remain patches of renosterveld and fynbos that occur nowhere else in the world.”
And that is really what Conservation Champions are all about. “Really, what we are trying to drive is regenerative agriculture, so restoring ecosystems, putting back in more than you take out. And capturing the power of the individual to make the right choices, given all the information.”
In spreading such drive further, Trevor from Lost Boy says, “If you get everybody that comes to this area as excited about fynbos and our ecology and our wildlife – that’s what truly makes conservation happen – getting people on board. The best thing that can happen for this whole movement is getting other excited about it, genuinely passionate about it. At the end of the day there is a lot of common ground with the farmers that have been here for a long time that have done things a particular way. We all want to protect this beautiful part of the world.”
In closing, Misha Teasdale, Director of Greenpop and the Reforest Fest shared, “We believe that creating these temporary community events, festivals of action, and restoration festivals, and through this, introducing the public to products that have a strong ethos within the environment, we are able to bring about a paradigm shift in the greater public. People generally want to be informed, but there is just so much information out there. If we can create moments, such as our conservation wine space, where people can be introduced to great wineries who are making delicious wines that are working to have a positive impact on the environment, we will be doing our part to help change one small part of a big industry which so desperately needs to move.”
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