Pushing South Africa’s ‘bio-wines’

17 January 2007

In the space of just two years, more than 70 of the Western Cape’s wine producers have adopted sustainable winemaking principles and set aside over 40 000 hectares – some 40% of the province’s winemaking land – for conservation.

Established in December 2004, the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI) is a pioneering partnership between South Africa’s wine industry and conservation sector, aimed at promoting the adoption of biodiversity best practices by winemakers in the Western Cape.

South Africa is the world’s eighth largest producer of wine, contributing around 3.5% of total wine production worldwide. According to the BWI, about 90% of this production occurs within the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest yet richest plant kingdom on earth.

Cape Floral Kingdom
A recognised global biodiversity hotspot, the Cape Floral Kingdom was inscribed on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in July 2004.

At the same time, however, concerns began to grow about threats to the area from urban development, invasive alien species – and agriculture, particularly vineyard expansion driven by the boom in South African wine exports over the past decade.

Since 80% of the Cape Floral Kingdom is privately owned, says the BWI, landowner participation in conservation efforts was essential – the most effective way of reaching landowners being through the agricultural industries they supply.

Hence the formation of the BWI, which announced this month that it now has 65 ordinary members, four co-operative cellar members, and four “champions”: Burgherspost and Cloof wine estates, Graham Beck Wines and Vergelegen.

Not just ‘greenwashing’
Ordinary BWI members are externally audited by the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) Scheme, their IPW certificates giving traders and buyers the assurance that sustainable production guidelines are being followed on their farms and cellars. Members must also identify an area of natural vegetation on their property and sign a commitment not to develop this area in the future.

BWI “champions” must go further, putting a full conservation management plan in place and agreeing to conserve at least 10% of their farms’ natural area.

Besides being assured of complying with South Africa’s environmental laws, winemakers benefit from their BWI membership by being able to market their wines and vineyards as eco-friendly without running the risk of being accused of “greenwashing”.

The wine industry as a whole also benefits, not only from increasingly sustainable natural resource management, but also from being able to leverage the biodiversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom as a competitive marketing advantage.

‘Variety is in our Nature’
Industry marketing body Wines of South Africa (Wosa) has been pushing this “biodiversity positioning” through a Variety is in our Nature campaign in key markets including the UK, US and Germany – and according to Wosa, initial market research “shows broad consumer support of South Africa’s eco-friendly wines”.

Speaking at the organisation’s annual wine marketing conference in Cape Town in October, Wosa CEO Su Birch spoke of a “groundswell of growing environmental and ethical awareness” about food origins and safety among consumers in the developed world – something South African wine is uniquely positioned to take advantage of.

“With this initiative we are laying the foundation for a thriving eco-tourism industry in the South African winelands,” Birch said.

Since 2004, the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative has received funding from the Green Trust, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, Cape Action for People and the Environment, the Botanical Society of SA, Winetech, Wines of SA and the SA Wine Industry Council.

The Green Trust recently agreed to continue funding the iniatiative for the next three years.

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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