I have spent the past three months in South Africa doing the harvests. The quality and diversity of wine have certainly impressed me, but what really opened my eyes is the commitment of the wineries to sustainability, both environmental and societal.
The Cape Winelands are located in the Cape Floral Kingdom, home to some 10,000 plant species, where 70 per cent of the plants are not found anywhere else in the world. It has more species than the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. A lot of wine producers have been growing vines for generations, and they believe that they are only the custodians of the land and should preserve it for future generations. The total vineyard area is just under 100,000 hectares, but the industry has set aside over 110,000ha in the winelands for conservation. They are committed to protecting the biodiversity by using minimal chemicals and introducing natural predators into the vineyards.
The industry here is not only earth friendly, they are also people friendly, as social responsibility is at the heart of most wine estates. They know that the future of South Africa lies with the educated young generations and therefore are very much involved in the Pebbles Project, a non-profit organisation that supports children and their families in farming communities by providing schools, child care, training and healthcare. The latest Hemel-en-Aarde Education Project, started in early 2017, supports nearly 100 children from the valley. The annual Cape Wine Auction in February raised a whopping 17 million rand (around HK$11million) to support education in the winelands.
I worked at two wineries and witnessed first-hand their commitment to sustainability. Villiera Wines (their wines are available in Hong Kong at wine’n’things) installed solar power back in 2010, the largest in South Africa at the time, and feeds the surplus back to the grid. The Grier family, in conjunction with two neighbours, set aside 220ha of land for indigenous plants, turning it into a wildlife sanctuary. They are planting 100,000 indigenous trees in order to become carbon neutral and to help future generations. They provide space and buildings on site for the Pebbles Project head office. The back labels of their wines tell the details of these stories.
The great-grandmother of Paul Cluver Wines started a school on the farm that went on to become an independent school with vocational training within the community. More recently, the Hope@PaulCluver Amphitheatre was initiated, with funds raised from the live performances there donated to improve lives in the community. In terms of the environment, 50 per cent of its 1,000ha estate is set aside for conservation and forms part of the Kogelberg Nature Reserve.
Since 2010, the industry has introduced the Integrity & Sustainability certification seal, which highlights their commitment to social enterprise and environmentally sustainable wine production. Consumers can trace every bottle back to its vineyard practices to ensure that the wine has been sustainably produced and audited as such. South Africa is not just about making better wine, it’s about making wine better. Visit the Wines of South Africa (WOSA) website for more information.
April is the annual Discover South Africa wine month when participating restaurants and retailers run promotions on South African wine. There is also a relaxed walk-around tasting of South African wines on Friday, 13 April 2018 at Renaissance Hong Kong Harbour View Hotel in Wanchai. Find out for yourselves how South Africa is making wine better.