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Distell has major influence on SA's ethical wine production

| Wine and liquor

Distell was having the biggest impact in the drive to ensure ethical accreditation amongst South African grape and wine producers, said the company's general manager for grape and wine supply, Erhard Wolf.

As the country's biggest wine player, it was fulfilling a critical role in accelerating certification, he explained, assisting South Africa to carve a unique position within the highly competitive international wine arena.

"The country is already internationally renowned for highly progressive eco-sustainable wine growing and winemaking practices.  Building our social sustainability further enhances our national reputation." 

Speaking at the end of the 2015 harvesting season, he said all farms owned in full or in part by Distell were accredited by the Wine and Agricultural Industry Ethical Trading Association (WIETA), as were all its grape suppliers producing for the company's export brands.  "By far the majority of our entire supply base is now WIETA-compliant and we have made accreditation a key performance indicator."

The company also produces several ranges that have been certified by Fairtrade for promoting fair labour practices.

Last month, Rico Basson, CEO of producer organisation VinPro was reported as saying that 26% of this year's Cape harvest was ethically accredited.

Distell's chief viticulturist, Drikus Heyns, said this year's harvest, some 10 to 14 days earlier than usual, had delivered healthy, outstanding quality grapes, with the crop about 4% down on last year's record intake, although yields had differed across regions.

"Given the unusually big size of the 2014 crop, I think it is more useful to compare the 2015 vintage with that of 2013, and I would say it is on par."

He called the 2015 vintage one of "superb promise", the result of mostly very favourable weather conditions and the benefits of ongoing investment in viticultural practices aimed at promoting earlier optimal ripening.  

A dry spring and early summer had accelerated ripening, he said. There had been no ripening setbacks as a result of rains or cold snaps, and grape development had been able to proceed consistently.  There had also been no heat waves until well into March, when most of the fruit had already been picked.

He confirmed that the generally moderate temperatures and cooling winds, as well as the widespread open vine canopy approach adopted by growers to promote optimal light and air penetration, had resulted in a good balance between fruit sugars, acids, aromas and flavours in both the whites and the reds.

Prevailing winds throughout the ripening season had not adversely affected yields and had helped to keep diseases at bay, proving a boon for the top-line, organically-certified fruit needed to meet demand in the upper premium-price segment. The farm, Papkuilsfontein near Darling, a joint venture between Distell and black entrepeneurs, had delivered exceptional organically-grown grapes this year, he said.

Callie van Niekerk, Distell's chief winemaker, said 2015 was proving a very good vintage for the more tropical Sauvignon blanc wines, as well as for Chardonnays from the coastal regions and Chenin blancs from the inland regions, which were displaying great complexity of flavour. 

All round, the reds, although still at a very early stage of development, were showing excellent colour intensity, full, ripe flavours and soft tannins. "The dry conditions gave rise to smaller berries with good skin to fruit ratios and we are very excited by the wines in development."

Wolf said that in addition to assisting suppliers to implement viticultural practices aimed at promoting optimal ripening, Distell was also working with them to introduce lesser known varietals suited to local growing conditions, such as the Mediterranean Albarino in order to give wine lovers an even greater diversity of products to choose from.

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