The Nedbank Green Wine Awards were recently held at the Mount Nelson Hotel. Not only were the top organic wines in South Africa revealed, but just as importantly, the Best Environmental Practices Award winners were announced. Entrants to this are assessed on water management, conservation of natural areas and ecosystems, energy efficiency and reduction of carbon emissions, soil management, chemical control and other environmental initiatives such as education programmes, community involvement, eco-tourism and transport initiatives.
The top wine farms for this year’s Best Environmental Practices category are:
In the Cluver family since 1896, De Rust Estate was famous for its apples and pears until the 1980s when Dr Paul Cluver III pioneered commercial grape-growing in Elgin. Now regarded as one of the Cape’s best wine producers, Paul Cluver Wines forms part of a holistic farming operation that includes deciduous fruit and a Hereford stud. The family has set aside almost half of the estate (about 1013 hectares) for conservation. As Dr Paul Cluver IV puts it, ‚We use the fruit of the land, but we are merely its guardians.’
The estate boasts three types of indigenous vegetation: critically endangered Elgin shale fynbos and western ruens shale renosterveld as well as Kogelberg sandstone fynbos. ‚We have the largest piece of renosterveld left in the country on private land,’ says Paul. One of the first farms to enter into a stewardship contract agreement with CapeNature, the Cluver Family Reserve also includes a game camp for antelope that used to roam the area.
The Cluvers haven’t restricted their conservation activities to their farm. Dr Cluver was the founder chairman of the Groenlandberg Conservancy, which today spans 34 000 hectares and forms part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site. He was also instrumental in developing the Green Mountain Eco Route, the world’s first biodiversity and wine route which incorporates Bot River, Elgin, Grabouw, Houw Hoek and Villiersdorp and offers eco-friendly activities such as hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and rock climbing.
Fresh, the new restaurant at Paul Cluver Wines, is a welcoming outdoor kitchen run by Joan Lancefield, who uses ingredients from the estate’s herb and vegetable garden. She also does pre-ordered picnics, ideal for the popular summer concerts held in the Forest Amphitheatre.
Grown as sustainably as possible, all of Paul Cluver’s wines are worth tasting. The greenest is the Chardonnay, fermented using yeasts that occur naturally in the vineyards rather than commercial yeast.
Runner-up – La Motte, Franschhoek
It isn’t easy farming organically in Franschhoek. ‚The chemicals sprayed on neighbouring farms just hang in the valley,’ says Pietie le Roux, farm manager and viticulturist at La Motte.
In 1999 owner Hanneli Rupert-Koegelenberg purchased Nabot farm in Bot River and the quality of its organically grown grapes convinced her team to convert some of the Franschhoek vineyards too. ‚There’s no question that the wines are better, with much more concentrated flavours,’ winemaker Edmund Terreblanche told us.
For Pietie, the difference is in the soil and, above ground, in the birds and wildlife that have returned to the 170-hectare Franschhoek property, which boasts a 30-hectare nature reserve and a five-kilometre circular hiking route. ‚We installed cameras along the trail and in the past two months we’ve see a male and female leopard,’ he reveals. ‚It’s incredible to think animals like this are still roaming freely on the property.’
Alien clearing operations take place annually, while seeds from this predominantly Hawequas sandstone fynbos area are collected for La Motte’s nursery. Rare flower species propagated here include a unique collection of disas and proteas, while lavandine, rose geranium and buchu are among the plants cultivated to produce ethereal oils.
Rightly proud of La Motte’s biodiversity, Pietie firmly believes the property’s eco-efficiency programme hasn’t only reduced the cost to the environment, but capital and operating costs as well. For example, a weather station, temperature monitoring system and infrared scanning to pinpoint vine stress and irrigation demands have allowed La Motte to reduce its water usage by almost 50 per cent.
La Motte boasts a sociable tasting room, the Pierneef √† La Motte Restaurant, regular art exhibitions and a farm shop. The hiking trail is endorsed by the Mountain Club of South Africa and costs R50 a person (maps with comprehensive information about the land, fauna and flora are available and booking is essential).
Although many of La Motte’s wines could be labelled as organically grown, only those made from Nabot grapes are certified. Try the Pierneef Sauvignon Blanc 2011, which achieved a 3 Star rating in this year’s Nedbank Green Wine Awards.
Third place – Waverley Hills, Tulbagh
Boasting three wines in the top 10 at this year’s Nedbank Green Wine Awards ‚ its Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2010 was only narrowly beaten by the Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2010 as Best White Wine ‚ Waverley Hills has full organic certification. Only approved natural products are used in the vineyards, with natural predators such as ducks used to control pests including snails and an impressive earthworm farm and composting programme in place.
Winemaker Johan Delport has pioneered the use of shade cloth as a means of weed control. ‚It blocks out the sun, killing the weeds, and because the vines no longer have competition, their shoots are more than 20 centimetres higher than they used to be. The wine’s natural acidity is also much higher, so much so that at first I thought we’d made a mistake with the analysis.’
On this 80-hectare property in the Witzenberg foothills, there are 30 hectares of vineyards, 9,5 hectares of olive trees and 16 hectares of conserved Breede shale renosterveld, Breede alluvium fynbos and Breede shale fynbos. There’s also a fynbos nursery, initially established to propagate plants for the estate’s beautiful gardens, but now supplies plants for the rehabilitation of flooded riverbeds. Their impressive recycling programme extends to processing waste from the local municipal dump.
Alien clearing takes place annually. ‚Every year it gets easier, quicker and cheaper,’ says environmental officer Johann van Biljon, whose farm management plan is displayed in the tasting room. ‚Hopefully people from other farms will come here for a dop, see what we’re doing and start doing the same.’ Less subtle is his Green Fingers education initiative, teaching school children about conservation in a way that gives them a sense of pride about where they live and inspires them to go green.
The tasting room is open daily and offers the full range of organic wines, olive and deli products. The bistro is open for lunch from Tuesday to Sunday (try the five-course organic food and wine pairing for R180). There’s also a 1,4-kilometres hiking trail and eight-kilometre mountain bike track.
Taste: ‚All our wines have a distinct fynbos character,’ says Johan, whose personal favourite is the 3 Star Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. He also makes a no-added-sulphur Cabernet Sauvignon.
WWF BIODIVERSITY and WINE INITIATIVE
Recognising the need to farm more sustainably, as well as the marketing potential of the Cape Floral Kingdom’s unique biodiversity, the wine industry partnered with the conservation sector in 2004 to form the WWF Wine and Biodiversity Initiative. Today the WWF BWI boasts 211 members, of which 16 are producer cellars and 21 have achieved champion status (including Paul Cluver, La Motte and Waverley Hills). Together, they conserve 130 633,40 hectares of land, a figure well in excess of the total vineyard footprint of 102 000 hectares. For more information and to check the most basic green credentials of your favourite wine, go to www.bwi.co.za.