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How Cape vineyards have kept their dams full through the drought

| Wine and liquor

The Nedbank Green Wine Awards are all about recognising and supporting South African winemakers who are committed to sustainable production of quality wine, environmental conservation and staff empowerment.

In October 2016 the Nedbank Green Wine Awards honoured several Cape winemakers who are leading the way globally in the green wine movement. Two of the categories at the awards were wines made from organically grown grates, and wines from IPW producers.

IPW, or Integrated Production of Wine, is the wine industry’s voluntary environmental sustainability certification scheme that acknowledges winemakers who pursue integrated, environmentally friendly production practices with the aim of minimising their agricultural footprint. It is the foundational requirement of the Nedbank Green Wine Awards.

Winemakers who go beyond the minimum legal requirements and demonstrate how the South African wine sector can be significant custodians of the globally unique Cape Floral Kingdom (a World Heritage Site), while also reducing their water, energy and waste footprints, are also supported by the WWF Conservation Champion programme.

They can be identified by the logo featuring the Cape sugarbird and protea, seen on many of the wine bottles in stores today.

Three of the overall winners in the 2016 Nedbank Green Wine Awards were:

• Earthbound: best overall organic and best red organic for its Earthbord Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.

• Paul Cluver: best overall IPW producer for its Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest 2014; and the 2016 winner of the award for leader in water conservation.

• La Motte: overall best farming practice and leader in community development.

Earthbound’s "live better" ethos is all about producing quality, organic wines according to Fairtrade principles and ethical certification requirements, with the aim of promoting more equality and sustainability in the wine farm and wine production sector.

Paul Cluver Wines were among the first to commit to what was initially the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI), established in 2004, and funded by the WWF Nedbank Green Trust until 2008. BWI has since evolved into the WWF Conservation Champions.

This family-run business in the Elgin Valley is intensely mindful of the environment, with 60% of the total farm committed to conservation through its stewardship agreement with CapeNature.

As part of Paul Cluver’s conservation focus, it has removed vast tracts of alien vegetation and replanted the land with endemic Cape Foral Kingdom species.

It also initiated the Thandi project, one of the first agricultural black economic empowerment initiatives, enabling workers to own their own orchards, vineyards and wine.

Integrity and Sustainability Seal

Sustainable, ecofriendly winemakers in SA are certified by the Wine and Spirit Board (WSB) to carry the Integrity & Sustainability Certified seal. It is a guarantee that the wine complies with the IPW criteria.

Sustainable Wine SA is the body that leads sustainable wine production in SA, and is an alliance between the WSB, Wines of SA and the WWF Conservation Champions.

"As a bank with 5-million customers we can play a part in influencing ethical consumer behaviour," says Kerri Savin, Nedbank’s sustainability stakeholder engagement manager.

"One such area is green wine, and this is where the Nedbank Green Wine Awards work so well. The awards are all about recognising a product where consumers can vote with their wallets."

Savin says Nedbank is deeply invested in agriculture through its lending in the sector. "In addition, through our partnership with the WWF we have invested R18m over six years to advance sustainable agricultural practices in a number of areas, including wine, fruit, beef, dairy and sugar."

Investing in water

The foundation of sustainable wine production, and agricultural at large, is water and water management.

The WWF Nedbank Green Trust programme is founded on the idea that water is a shared resource and water stewardship is a long-term journey towards improving collective water use, reducing water impacts and partnering on big water issues.

Shelly Fuller, manager of the WWF Fruit and Wine Programme, says: "Water availability has been identified as an enormous risk in SA, exacerbated by the prolonged drought. The Western Cape has had with 300mm less rainfall in 2016 than its average winter rainfall, and most dams are at worryingly low levels.

"The Western Cape is also experiencing unseasonal summer rain that is falling too intensely over short periods, instead of the characteristic soaking winter rains over longer periods.

"To help mitigate this, good water catchment management is essential at all levels: from on-farm and nature reserves to provincial, municipal and industrial levels."

Being a good water steward is one of the WWF Conservation Champion criteria, and these industry leaders have already come a long way in implementing good practices with regard to water.

Freeing up water on Boschendal

Founded in 1685, WWF Conservation Champion Boschendal is one of the oldest wine estates in SA. Since 2003 it has cleared more than 500ha of alien vegetation, including acacias, hakeas and pines, and replaced them with more than 7,500 indigenous fynbos plants.

The alien clearing and fynbos restoration has freed up water on the farm, with rivers and streams that used to dry up by November or December now flowing throughout the summer — even in the summer of 2015, one of the region’s driest and hottest years.

"Our landscape and river systems are becoming healthy, functioning ecosystems again, with habitat diversity, more available water and better absorption, and lower risks such as flooding," says André Lambrechts, the estate’s environmental manager.

La Motte’s farming practice

The 2016 Nedbank Green Wine Awards winner for overall best farming practice and leader in community development went to La Motte, which is conserving water in a number of ways:

1. Conserving important river and catchment areas: all alien vegetation has been removed and the areas re-established with indigenous fynbos, ensuring increased runoff. Despite the low rainfall this year, La Motte’s dams are full.

2. Implementing many biological farming practices to increase soil health to retain water for longer: making mulch and compost (no artificial fertilisers are used), and planting a variety of cover crops to form an organic layer on the soil that retains moisture.

3. All irrigation is done with drippers and soil moisture is measured with continuous loggers. Flow meters have been installed in each vineyard block and are linked to computer software to ensure water use is accurately measured and applied when necessary;

4. All cellar effluent or grey water is treated with "bioreactors" before it enters the dam. In the dam a process of reverse osmosis removes all algae before the water is reused for irrigation;

5. Farm manager Pietie le Roux is involved in water conservation beyond the farm gates in the Kastaiing River Water Scheme. Alien vegetation on neighbouring farms and CapeNature areas all contribute to a decrease in run off, which affects water availability for all.

"Science is showing the wine and fruit-producing sector in the Western Cape will be confronted with increasing, extreme climate variability and we need to focus our efforts on understanding these impacts at the farm, regional and catchment level, and which activities can reduce these risks and impacts," says Fuller.

"As part of this we are helping growers to better manage their water and production so that they can mitigate or adapt to these risks, now and into the future."

For more information about the Nedbank Green Wine Awards and a full list of the 2016 winners, go to: www.greenwineawards.com

For more about the WWF Conservation Champions, click here.

For more information about Sustainable Wine South Africa (SWSA), click here.

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