Just in time for the 2016 Christmas festivities we posted a blog to give you, our readers, a little more information on sustainable wines and what wines to look out for over the Christmas season. Now, Christmas may be long gone but, if you’re anything like us, wine will never be far away! Whether you are wild about white or relish your red, there isn’t much that beats that glass of wine after a long day!
Anyway before we get carried away, let’s get stuck into this much awaited and anticipated (we live in hope!) blog about our second favourite topic (obviously environment is always number 1), wine! We were lucky enough to grab a few minutes with Steph Wiid, a winemaker at Fairview Wine Farm in the Western Cape, as well as the producer of her very own wine label Thistle & Weed. We chatted to Steph about Fairview’s sustainable wine production and what that entails, as well as the different varieties of wine that Fairview produce.
Green at Heart: Steph can you briefly explain the wine making process? We know this seems like an obvious question but many people don’t realise that there’s more to it than just stewing grapes.
Steph: The first step is the grape growing – different cultivars (types) are suited to different climates, soil types and trellising systems. Our climate and landscape are so diverse in the Western Cape that we have lots of opportunity to plant different varieties from Sauvignon Blanc to Shiraz. The wine quality starts in the vineyard – you can’t make a good wine from bad grapes!
Next is the harvesting – the season starts mid-January with the early varieties like Chardonnay and ends in March with the later ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon.
The grapes arrive at the cellar and are destemmed and gently crushed. The white varieties go directly to the press where we separate the skins from the juice. The juice then ferments at between 12 – 16 degrees Celsius for up to 3 weeks. The reds are a bit different, fermenting on the skins for 10 days to extract colour and tannin after which, they are pressed and then go through a second ferment (malolactic fermentation) and age in barrels.
Green at Heart: Well there you have it, there’s more to it that you think! So Steph, how does Fairview endeavour to make sure that their farming practices are sustainable and have a reduced environmental impact?
- We work with various consultants, the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative (BWI) and Cape nature to continuously improve our farming practices. For instance, we have a programme to manage and clear alien vegetation with Cape Nature.
- We try to limit our waste by recycling where we can, as well as composting all our grape skins and goats manure using the same method Reliance Compost (100% certified organic compost) does to ensure minimal CO2 emissions during the composting process. This compost is then returned to the vineyards to promote a healthy living soil. Other practices we use to increase the organic matter in the soil and improve soil structure include mulching and using cover crops for nitrogen fixing. We avoid using pesticides by using natural predators (ladybird beetles and parasitic wasps), which we release into the vineyards to control Mealy Bug, an insect that is spreading Leaf Roll virus across most of the Cape’s vineyards.
- We monitor the water needs of the vineyards by means of continuous loggers to ensure our water use is minimised where possible.
- Effluent water is treated and used for irrigation for cattle grazing.
- Spent grain and cocoa bean husks from the CBC Brewery and DV Chocolate factory respectively are also used as a protein and nutrient source for some livestock.
- We keep natural “corridors or islands” of fynbos in between vineyard blocks to ensure there is a place for insects and birds to make their homes.
- We have installed owl houses to encourage owls to nest on the farm. We have also put up perches in the vineyards to help birds of prey hunt mice in the vineyards.
Green at Heart: Wow it really sounds like Fairview are doing what they can to make wine production as environmentally friendly as possible. So are there specific farming practices for each grape variety and do some need a bit more attention than others?
Steph: Yes definitely, the trellis system depends on the site and type of grape. For example, our Primo Pinotage requires a lot of attention and we need to tend to the bush vines by hand, whereas some of the other cultivars in trellised vineyards can be managed using mechanised systems. Essentially the same principals apply to all cultivars but the care and timing vary.
Green at Heart: Sounds like the Primo Pinotage is the Primo Donna of the group! Well from what you’ve told us, it’s definitely possible to farm wine in a more sustainable way, but what other aspects of the wine making process (such as fermentation or bottling) can be done in a more eco-friendly manner?
- We do our cellar’s carbon footprint every year – Climate fruit and Wine are working with the wine industry and offer a free carbon calculator (http://www.climatefruitandwine.co.za/) to assist wine farms in calculating their carbon footprint. From this we know that our electricity usage remains the largest proportion of our impact on the environment. In order to try and reduce our electricity usage we harvest at night, where we can, to reduce the impact on our cooling plant and thereby save electricity. We’ve also just changed all our lighting to low wattage LED and fluorescent lighting.
- We only use GMO-free, vegan, vegetarian and non-allergenic products during the winemaking process (except of course SO2, which is an allergen for some people, but is essential to the wine making process).
- We try to choose cleaning products that are more environmentally friendly (monitored by IPW http://www.ipw.co.za/).
- We do our best to save water!
- On a side note, some new age wineries in Europe are now able to capture the CO2 emitted during the fermentation process and compress it for reuse later in their wine making process, but these technologies are still being developed.
Green at Heart: The socio-economic aspect of environmental sustainability is often overlooked but in actual fact it is a fundamental part of protecting our environment and the people who rely on it. In light of this, how does Fairview endeavour to ensure that they honour their socio-economic commitments, in terms of their employees, who are obviously a vital part of the wine making process?
Steph: Fairview Wines has consciously been involved, for many decades, with a variety of socio-economic development programmes. We know that each member of the Fairview Family plays an important role in the success of our business. We strive to improve people’s lives by implementing sustainable initiatives. These include a crèche and afterschool club, a clinic, psycho-social services and free transport to and from the work place. Fairview Wines are also Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trading Association (WIETA) and Fairtrade accredited.
Green at Heart: Why do you think is it important for wine makers to join in the fight for more environmentally sustainable production?
Steph: An environmentally sustainable production means the business is also going to be sustainable… and we all love wine right!
Green at Heart: And lastly, what are your three favourite Fairview wines that you would recommend to our readers?
- Bloemcool Skilpadrug Viognier 2015 – only 738 bottles of this wine were bottled! Bloemcool is a special range where we use recycled wine bottles and recycled paper to make handmade labels. The labels have cauliflower seeds (“blomcool”) in them which can be planted! These are small batch handcrafted wines and only 3 barrels were bottled for this Viognier. Fermented in barrels and left on the lees for 8 months. It’s a bold white wine perfect for dinner with friends.
- Stok by Paaltjie Grenache – Grenache is a light style red wine, known for its red fruit notes and spice! This is from one vineyard block where the fynbos grows between the vine rows on the terraced slope of Paarl mountain.
- Nurok – a white blend of Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, an elegant wine yet intense and complex. One of my favourites!
- All these wines can be ordered and delivered directly from Fairview. To order visit our website at https://www.fairview.co.za.
Thanks so much Fairview and Steph for opening our eyes to the world of sustainable wine making and for telling us a little bit more about the wonderful wines Fairview has to offer! Next time you are in Cape Town, do yourself a favour and pay them a visit!
Stay tuned for our next blog post, where we will be tasting some of the delicious Fairview wines Steph has recommended!