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BWI programme for wine farmers

I recently toured the wine lands of the Western Cape to learn about sustainable wine growing practice.

Did you know that there are some 3,440 wine farms in the Western Cape, and that 460 have cellars and wine-making facilities?

Did you know that 95% of our wine is produced in the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of six plant kingdoms in the world?

Did you know this kingdom is the smallest and richest with 70% of the plants found here and nowhere else on earth?

Do you know of the initiative pioneered by the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) and the wine industry called -The Biodiversity & Wine Initiative- (BWI)?

Did you know that in the industry has 101,000 hectares under vine and the BWI programme has worked their membership base of 289 farms to secure over 140 000 hectares for conservation.

That means that even though it's only working with a small percentage of the industry, the result is that for every 1 hectare under vine, there is 1.4 hectares under conservation.

I didn't.

Today South African wines lead the world in production integrity, environmental sustainability and conservation.

This is a good story!

Producer farmers who belong to the BWI have to meet strict criteria set out by the WWF. A certain percentage of the farm has to be set aside for conservation purposes and the restoration of fynbos.

Members are required to subscribe to the three pillars of social, ecological and environmental best practice via the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) and the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) environmental standard.

There are two categories of membership - "Champions" - who have set aside 10% or more of their farm for conservation and score 70% on the IPW scorecard - and "Members" - who have set aside a minimum of 4 hectares of their farm to conservation% and achieve a score 60%. There are 289 members, 30 of which are "Champions".

We often read of the "dop" system and the unpredictable seasonal nature of labour engagement. We seldom read of these practices changing. Are they?

Hosted by Nedbank and the Green Wine Awards filed trip we visited two farms to find out.

The first was Bartinney, owned by Michael and Rose Jordaan.

This farm in the Banhoek area was the family farm where Michael grew up. When the Jordaan's bought the farm back eight years ago it was anything but an example of sustainable farming!

Over the past eight years much as been done: alien trees have been removed (which incidentally resulted in the farm spring flowing again and the dam filling up). 6,800 indigenous trees have been planted to reduce their carbon footprint, "so that we are carbon-neutral". Solar power has been installed (50% Eskom reduction) and wetlands have been established to filter water used in wine-making (it takes 4 litres of water to make 1 litre of wine). The Banhoek Conservancy, in co-operation with 23 neighbouring farms has been established. Tourism outreach and mountain biking opportunities have been introduced. Herbicides have been replaced by biological control and staff facilities have been improved and employment contracts made more secure.

"I wouldn?t exactly describe myself as an eco-bully," says Rose Jordaan, "but as humans we are good at destroying balance - and it quickly becomes very hard to restore it".

"When we arrived here the alien invaders had destroyed much of the fynbos, our water had dried up and the naturally occurring fauna and flora had disappeared. Eight years later our spring runs all year round, we have 11 hectares out of 30 under fynbos and indigenous plants, we have a mountain bike trail, we employ 24 permanent staff and no seasonal workers. Besides grape growing, vine maintenance and wine production our staff grow their own vegetables on the farm, assist with alien plant control, help with our tourism activities and manage our nursery. And pleasingly, the leopards, honey badgers, porcupines, baboons, birds and hard-working insects have all returned", Rose tells.

Maybe not an eco-bully, but certainly a mover and shaker - and a fine producing farmer.

Our next visit was to La Motte, where we had one of the tastiest lunches ever. Their achievements are equally impressive.

Owned by the Rupert family, Werner Briedenhaan, the facilities manager explains that "we want to build a diverse, integrated, sustainable environment".

"Clearly wine making is our core business, but we do a whole lot else. We grow Levantine, Cape Snow bush and Rose Geranium to make essential oils for soaps, perfumes, candles etc. We have set aside approximately 35% of the farm for fynbos in which we clear of alien species annually".

"We have our own nursery for wild indigenous flowers, we grow our own vegetables for the restaurant and our shop has mostly local products sourced from the local community. We encourage local SMME development. Basically (don't you love the way South Africans use that word?) we re-cycle everything we can. We are fully committed to the BWI and are proud to be a Champion," says Pieter le Roux, the Chief Viticulturist.

The coup de gras was a lunch at the Vineyards Hotel hosted by Ian Dinan publisher of Getaway and Sydney Mbhele of the Nedbank Green Awards who reminded us that the Koi-Koi, the original indigenous population of the Western Cape believed that "the land provides, nurtures, educates and cares" and as Chief Seattle reminds us, "you can't own the land, you are part of it".

I sat with Allan Mullins, wine buyer for Woolworths for the past 25 years. The spokesperson for the judges, Fiona MacDonald, told that 150 BWI organic wines were entered, 15% up on last year - 1 with 4.5 stars, 18 with 4 stars and 30 with 3.5 stars and that the "bar continues to be raised".

Reyneke Chenin Blanc was rated as best white wine and best wine overall. The second category of awards were around best farming practices in:

Production integrity - Bartinney
Conservation - Paul Cluver
Tourism - La Motte
Community Development - La Motte
Best Farming Practices - La Motte

A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world - Louis Pasteur.

So, South Africans, please ensure when you buy wine it has the BWI sugarbird on the label.

Let's do our bit to sustain the initiative.

Article courtesy SA Good News