Increasingly, wine farmers are putting sustainability at the heart of what they do – and South Africa is no exception. As far back as 1998, South Africa introduced guidelines on sustainability which is adhered to by over 95% of growers and cellars.
Sustainable wine farming has at its core the protection of the environment, whilst simultaneously producing top quality wines and ensuring economic feasibility and social responsibility. Simply put – sustainable wine farming is focused on delivering a positive impact on all three key areas of life – social, environment and economic.
Sustainable wine farming methods include:
- Sustainable farming – This sees the limiting of any chemicals or poisons used, the long-term impact of which would be severely damaging to the natural environment.
- Organic farming – The use of natural products only (e.g., compost), with nothing artificial (e.g., fertilizers, pesticides).
- Biodynamic faming – A self-sustaining method of farming, combining farming actions with the earth’s life cycles, enriching the soil quality and stimulating plant and microbial life.
Situated outside Paarl, on the slopes of the Klein Drakenstein mountains, Avondale Wine Estate is committed to the practice of organic, biodynamic and sustainable farming practices. A family owned and run wine estate, it is well-known for creating and crafting the richest and most authentic award winning certified organic and biodynamic natural slow wines.
“We regard our wine estate as a dynamic living system where all its elements form part of a complex web of relationships that are interconnected and interdependent,” says Johnathan Grieve, proprietor, Avondale Wine Estate.
“We are acutely aware of the importance of achieving a healthy balance in our vineyard eco-system, our wines and in our own lives. Chemically, biologically and physically the health of soil, water, plants, animals and humans are intricately inter-related,” continues Grieve. “At Avondale Wine Estate, we farm naturally and holistically using organic and biodynamic farming methods to ensure sustainable farming.”
Examples of Avondale Wine Estate’s sustainable farming practices include:
- Nutrient density
At Avondale, there are high levels of nutrient rich soil due to their organic and bio-dynamic farming practices as well as the philosophy of feeding the micro life which, in return, feeds the crop that you are growing. Nutrient density effects all stages of wine production, the soil, the plants, and the grapes.
- Pest Control
One of the most effective, responsible and long-lasting ways to reduce damage from pests is to introduce or deliberately boost natural populations of ‘beneficials’ – be they helpful predators, parasites or pathogens.
- Cover Crops
As part of Avondale’s holistic approach, it makes use of a uniquely diverse cover cropping system. “We use more than 10 different mixes of cover crops to foster a thriving community of life in our soils,” says Grieve.
Every weed has an ideal environment that it likes to grow in. If a soil is out of balance, a specific profile of weeds will grow there as living testimony to that environmental condition, telling us more about soil conditions. Achieving and maintaining balance in the soils, and in the ecosystem, is a highly effective yet gentle approach to weed control.
Avondale actively restores and re-establishes indigenous fynbos species in the actual vineyards and has designed and created nature corridors that run through the vineyards so that its entire ecosystem is a well-connected web of natural vegetation
A great challenge for farmers is a plant’s need for nitrogen in order to develop. In traditional farming this leads to a never-ending dependence on commercial nitrogen fertilisers. By contrast, Avondale through its organic and biodynamic farming focuses on creating the conditions for natural nitrogen to be available in the soil.
- Use of water
Naturally Avondale does not only look at what and how much water it uses, but also what happens to the waste stream. “After extensive research, we implemented a wastewater system of three dams interlinked by spiralling channels of cleansing reeds that replicates a natural river system, that naturally treats the wastewater without any chemical additives,” explains Grieve.
Avondale ensures that the soil is balanced and can provide all the nutrients required for healthy plant and micro life. This is a key factor in biodynamic agriculture with a key focus in creating stable humus. It helps to maintain soil moisture, nutrient retention and overall soil health.
Using these organic and biodynamic methods results in Avondale having plenty of healthy yeasts present on the grapes. This distinctive and specific fingerprint of microflora reflects the microclimate in the Avondale vineyards and transforms the grapes into wine reflecting the terroir of the specific vineyard at Avondale.
“We also follow a natural ferment process,” continues Grieve. This does not follow the same fermentation curve as a wine that has been inoculated with commercial yeast. Natural fermentation is important to Avondale because the result allows each wine to express its unique character in its texture, mouthfeel, body, flavour, elegance, and complexity. This provides the unique sense of place – exactly as Mother Nature intended.
A family farm, Avondale Wine Estate appreciates that the health and balance of its living system is inextricably linked to the well-being of its families. As a father of two, husband, son and brother, Grieve’s inspiration to achieve a robust, balanced vineyard ecosystem is to ensure that Avondale will support the lives of our future generations. “The theme of a healthy balanced life is embedded in our family’s outlook. We are custodians of the land – preserving and protecting it for future generations.”