Greatness with Goodness
Making award-winning wines while looking after your people and the environment – now that’s true sustainability! By Sandile Mkhwanazi
Wildekrans Wine Estate, the overall winner of the 2015 Nedbank Green Awards best farming practice category, showed that sustainability is about more than just the birds, bees and fynbos. In their case it is also about being the leader in community development and winning the best-value wine award with their 2015 Sauvignon Blanc.
Braam Gericke, viticulturist and farm manager on Wildekrans, acknowledged the sound approach to business and farming of owners Amanda and Gary Harlow. The Harlows built up this farm in the Bot River valley from a rather dilapidated state more than a decade ago. “Without their vision, investment and support, we wouldn’t be here today. They believe in the workforce and the management team of the farm,” Gericke said as he and winemaker William Wilkinson guided me through their journey.
When the Harlows bought the farm it was covered with alien vegetation. It was so bad that the dam was hardly visible on an aerial photograph. Extensive research and the identification of varied sites on the farm indicated that an all-inclusive farming approach was necessary. “Most people in the industry know us as a wine farm, but we have other fruits and we rear sheep too. It’s about balancing the ecosystem and utilising the soil for what it is good for,” Gericke said.
GROWTH AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
The estate has been working hard to empower their workers through skills development and training. Gericke started off with eight workers, but as the business has expanded the permanent team has grown to more than 40 born-and- bred Bot River residents and twice as many seasonal workers. Thanks to the farm’s multidisciplinary approach, the seasonal workers are employed practically throughout the year.
“We care deeply about our workers and the environment. If you take care of the workers, they will take care of the environment and the farm,” Gericke continued. When the farm was first handed over to him, the biggest challenge was invasion by alien vegetation. A massive land-clearing project was pursued; the workforce got on board and was crucial to the exercise. “We supplied most of the wood to retail outlets, but soon could not meet the demand.”
One of the farm’s former employees spotted the gap and started his own company, which is now fully managing the clearing of alien vegetation on the farm.
“We are listed in more than eight environmental accreditation organisations and get audited annually. When you export fruit to the UK, these accreditations build consumer trust. The farm is listed on Global Gap, Nature’s Choice and Leaf, to name just a few. This is, however, a very costly exercise that could potentially discourage other wineries from being more sustainable,” argued Gericke.
Joan Isham from WWF joined in the conversation on how the farm has evolved over the past decade. ”Wildekrans was covered with alien vegetation but through hard work, they have been able to wipe out most of the alien vegetation and now spot and rip alien plants as seedlings,” she said. This year the estate was awarded Conservation Champion status by WWF’s Biodiversity & Wine Initiative, giving them the right to display the sugarbird-and-protea logo.
Wildekrans is keen for people to explore their farm and has launched a mountain bike trail. ”It’s about time people get to enjoy this farm and what it can offer. Winning these awards, which are judged by our peers, says we are heading in the right direction,” concluded Braam.