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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  30 Oct 2008

WINE: Wine Sector Conservation Efforts Acclaimed


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The concerted conservation efforts of the South African wine industry, which in just four years has set aside for long-term conservation a total of 104 000 hectares – more than the total national vineyard of almost 102 000 hectares – is being praised internationally, according to Wines of South Africa (WOSA) CEO, Su Birch. The process is led by the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative (BWI), a conservation organisation partnering with the South African wine industry.

US-based The Nature Conservancy, one of the world’s largest NGOs devoted to nature conservation, has acknowledged the SA wine industry and BWI’s world leadership in sustainability.  It has commended the organisation for bringing together the major wine corporates, many of the co-operative wineries as well as boutique and garagiste producers in a unified thrust to protect the Cape’s abundant biodiversity.

Dr Jeff Parrish, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Global Mediterranean Habitat Conservation project, has lauded the BWI as a model business and conservation partnership for all the world’s wine-producing countries sharing a Mediterranean climate.  The BWI’s “exemplary project and partnership is something the four other Mediterranean climatic regions might learn from, to make conservation there happen faster and at a much grander scale," he said. 

Dr Parrish will be visiting the Cape in December to learn more about the BWI and its role in protecting indigenous natural habitat in wine-growing areas. 

Birch said that since its establishment in 2004, the BWI had succeeded in having 104 000 hectares reserved for protection and rehabilitation to indigenous habitat, with a conservation footprint more than equal to the national vineyard’s 101 957 hectares. The BWI’s intention was in the future to match every new hectare planted to vines with a hectare set aside for conservation.

Most of the country’s wine-growing – almost 95% - takes place in the Cape Floral Kingdom (CFK), the richest and also the smallest plant kingdom on the planet.  The CFK is home to more than 10 000 plant species, more than are found in the entire Northern Hemisphere.   Recognised both as a global biodiversity hotspot and a World Heritage site, it has come under increasing threat from agriculture, urban development and invasive alien vegetation.

BWI project co-ordinator Inge Kotzé said it was fitting that the country should be at the vanguard of international wine production integrity on the eve of its 350th anniversary as a producer of wines.  The first wine was made at the Cape by Jan van Riebeeck in February 1659.

South Africa’s wine industry was rated as highly progressive for having established a decade ago, the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW), a set of sustainable wine-growing principles to which over 95% of the country’s wine producers now subscribe, Kotzé added. It was one of only two in the world to be independently audited.

To date the BWI has accorded membership status to 129 producers for strictly adhering to its sustainability principles.  Of these,13 have been designated champions for exceeding the conservation specifications set by the organisation.  Members include some of the most internationally-awarded producers such as Vergelegen, Oak Valley, Graham Beck, Paul Cluver and Delheim, underscoring the stature of the project.

Kotzé said that in addition to spearheading the move to engage individual producers in reducing the further loss of threatened natural habitat, the BWI had achieved another important milestone, admitting the Darling Wine District as its first collective member with every one of the producers farming in the area now following BWI principles. 

“These results demonstrate an exceedingly high level of support for the principles of conservation, as well as production integrity.  They are not only critically important in protecting the environment but they also give South Africa a substantial point of competitive difference in international markets,” said Birch.

Greater environmental awareness internationally had seen consumers increasingly make conscious decisions to support producers who took an eco-friendly approach.  “The trend of conspicuous consumption is being eclipsed by mindful consumption,” Birch said “with shoppers wanting to help redress environmental imbalances and eschewing products and services that impact negatively on the planet.”

Birch confirmed that many producers, in line with South Africa’s generic positioning of “Variety is in Our Nature” had made conservation of the Cape’s unique biodiversity a core feature of their marketing campaigns and they were embracing the advantages it offered to promote wine tourism.  “Several producers have opened up nature walks and information centres on their farms, whilst neighbouring wineries collaborate to create regional hiking trails through the natural areas set aside for conservation under the BWI stewardship model.”

Currently, the BWI is seeking EU approval for the use of a sticker that can be displayed by accredited members on their wine bottles.  It features a sugar bird on a protea and is already in use on the domestic market.

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