In the South African winelands, you’ll find some of the oldest viticultural soils in the world, traceable back to the first super continent some 1 000 million years ago. The constant interplay between these ancient soils, soaring mountains, valley slopes and coastal breezes results in a natural environment exceptional in its biodiversity.
The Cape winelands are located in the Cape Floral Kingdom. One of six such plant kingdoms in the world, it is the smallest yet richest, home to more than 8 500 plant species – more than are found in the whole of the northern hemisphere. Table Mountain alone has more floral species than the entire United Kingdom. One of 35 recognised biodiversity hot spots – 70% of the plants found here are not found anywhere else on earth – the Cape Floral Kingdom is a world heritage site
There are places where more than 2 500 plants have been found in one sod of soil a metre square (10.75 square feet) and 10 centimetres (4 inches) deep. Many species are found in very site-specific areas, sometimes occurring only in a single square kilometre (0,40 square mile). This huge variety of species has evolved over time by adapting to nutrient-poor soils and specific microclimates.
The Cape’s winegrowing regions are influenced by the Atlantic and Indian oceans which create beneficial maritime conditions like regular coastal fog and cooling sea breezes. Diversity of soils is matched by diversity of climate and geography, creating a treasure trove of winemaking possibilities. The options really are endless. This is already demonstrated in the flavour profiles which make a Sauvignon Blanc from Elim so different to one from Elgin – or a Shiraz from Paarl so different to one from Stellenbosch.
Preserving this unique natural heritage is also in the nature of the South African wine producers, many of whom have farmed their land for generations. They are keen to identify what is unique, rare and special on their farms, find ways to preserve the fynbos and renosterveld (indigenous vegetation) of the Cape Floral Kingdom, and minimise the further loss of our threatened natural habitat.
The South African wine industry proactively supports conservation. Biodiversity guidelines have now been written into the guidelines for the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW), the industry’s handbook for sustainable farming. A compulsory system introduced in 1998, the IPW focuses on every stage in the production process, from environmental impact studies and the correct preparation of soil to the use of recyclable packaging. Before planting new vineyards, producers should now carry out a botanical audit and draw up a plan to preserve any endangered or significant species. Many producers have set aside natural areas which will remain undeveloped in perpetuity. Researchers are also exploring exciting new options, such as using indigenous plants as cover crops in our vineyards.
Sustainable Wine South Africa (SWSA) is the alliance between the Wine and Spirit Board (WSB), the IPW scheme, the WWF-SA Conservation Champion programme and Wines of South Africa (WOSA).Together these organisations are driving the South African wine industry's commitment to sustainable, eco-friendly production. The new Wine and Spirit Board seal guarantees that the wines have been sustainably produced according to their new guidelines and consumers are able to verify this on-line by entering the unique seal numbers on the bottle.
The sustainability initiative is encapsulated by the San word/verb associated with good fortune (as in having enough to eat or to gather), hannuwa, meaning to be ‘comfortable, happy, good, nice or fortunate’ (Bleek 1956). It is a collective word suggesting a life of harmony and plenty; in other words, success in sustaining life. Wines of South Africa is using hannuwa to encapsulate the philosophy of the wine industry as embodied in the pledge signed by the producers: to farm sustainably; to be a custodian of the land and preserve it for future generations; to nurture a culture of respect among the people who work on the farms and in the cellars; to promote an environment of dignity, equality and upliftment for all; to protect the unique and valuable biodiversity of our winelands; and to safeguard the rich heritage of South Africa’s winelands.
Read about the impact of climate change on the South African winelands
Integrated Production of Wine
Access further information and the IPW website
Browse websites related to environmental sustainability
Sustainable Wine South Africa
Access further information about the sustainability seal
WWF-SA Conservation and Wine
Access further information on the WWF Conservation Champion programme