CAPE WINE EXHIBITION 2012, SOUTH AFRICA
After a four-year hiatus, Cape Wine was held in late September in Capetown, South Africa. I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa for this wine exhibition September 25 – 27, 2012. Typically the Cape Wine Exhibition for the wine trade is held every two years. However the last Cape Wine was four years ago, supplanted by the FIFA World Cup that took place in South Africa in 2010. Sponsored by Wines of South Africa (WOSA), Cape Wine is the wine industrys showpiece; a trade show targeted at international importers, agents, buyers, sommeliers, educators and media as well as South African based International Trading companies and importers, South African sommeliers and chefs, South African media.
Erica Landin, Swedish journalist who covers sustainable wine producers, suggested I plan to attend Cape Wine after she interviewed me for her recent Meiningers article on sustainability in the wine sector. She’s quite knowledgeable about South African wines and was awesome in introducing me to her contacts and friends.
WOSA planned for the exhibition to be sustainable. What that meant for exhibitors is that they designed a new stand, made from recycled material, which is light, sturdy and simple to erect, and, best of all, reusable. So at the end of the show, the stands were flat-packed and taken home for re-use at other trade shows. The stand is made from Xanita Board, a South African product invention. (For more info see www.xanita.com.)
Attendance at Cape Wine 2012 exceeded all expectations, with well over 3,000 people at the Cape Town International Convention Center over the course of the three-day show. Participants tasted wines from 305 producers and attended over-subscribed seminars – panel discussions with winery owners and wine makers — as well as the extremely popular 30-minute Soap Box sessions where producers were given the opportunity to voice their opinions in a less formal “speaker’s corner.” All these sessions were extremely informative and included guided wine tastings.
It was in a soapbox session that I met Johan Ryneke, viticulturist of the only certified biodynamic winery in South Africa. Johan describes himself as a philosopher and a “Vine Hugger” and speaks passionately about the land, the vines and respecting the vineyard workers in the wine making process.
SOUTH AFRICA IS A LEADER IN WINE SUSTAINABILITY
My MBA dissertation research on sustainability in the wine supply chain highlighted the all-embracing work being done in South Africa on environmental sustainability, biodiversity and wildlife conservation and social responsibility. Fortunately I had the chance to meet with sustainability leaders during my trip to South Africa. During Cape wine, I was able to sit down for extended discussions with the managers of the leading sustainability programs in South Africa. They each had a booth prominently located inside the exhibition.
In terms of major certification programs, South Africa has three (four if you count the certification of origin of the wine) — WIETA (http://wieta.org.za.www34.cpt3.host-h.net/) focused on ethical trade and fair labor standards in the wine supply chain; Integrated Production of Wine IPW- (http://www.ipw.co.za/) a voluntary environmental sustainability scheme for vineyards and wineries established by the South African wine industry in 1998; and World Wildlife Fund’s Biodiversity Wine Initiative BWI. (http://www.wwf.org.za/what_we_do/outstanding_places/fynbos/biodiversity___wine_initiative/.) Altogether these certification programs make for a very comprehensive approach to sustainability, including social and labor standards throughout the supply chain, strong standards on environmental responsibility in grape growing and in the winery, and seals for the bottles, attesting to certification. However I believe they should move more quickly to combine these into a single certification system. I imagine four seals on a bottle will be confusing to consumers. Still it is the most impressive and comprehensive supply chain sustainability program out there. And WIETA is working hard to overcome recent labor infractions by some growers highlighted by Human Rights Watch in 2011 (http://www.hrw.org/features/human-rights-conditions-south-africa-fruit-wine-industries), with their new seal, which was announced in May 2012. So far 44 wines have been certified under this new ethical trade program.
WINERY VISITS – SUSTAINABILITY LEADERS TOUR OF STELLENBOSCH
The day after Cape Wine 2012 concluded, WOSA organized a Sustainability Leaders Tour of Stellenbosch and I was invited to participate. We started with a tour of Reyneke, the first and still only South African producer certified biodynamic by Demeter; then to Backsberg, a BWI “Champion” where we had a guided tractor ride through the vineyards; and finally ended our tour at Avondale, another biodynamic producer.
Johan Reyneke, Jr. took over his family farm and began producing his own wine, using conventional agricultural methods. With vines as old as 40 years, he soon moved to organic methods, eventually converting completely to biodynamic farming and wine-making methods. Reyneke is a trailblazer in the realm of bio-dynamic viticulture in South Africa: “The intention here is to interfere as little as possible, he says, to allow nature to be the real maker of the wine and to truly produce terroir specific wines of the highest quality.”
He finds the biodynamic vineyard has soil of higher organic content and lower acidity yielding smaller bunches and smaller grapes with a higher skin to pulp ratio. The fruit also has higher natural acidity. It also forces the vine to live from the soil, rather than chemical fertilizers, so one finds greater heterogeneity of plants and fruit within the vineyard. His non-interventionist style of wine-making seems to be paying off. His wines have been warmly received, garnering approval from a wide range of critics including Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate.
He’s also an owner with a social conscience who launched his Cornerstone program to encourage home ownership and education for his workers and their families. The first farm child to attend university will do so next year under this program. “You can’t make wine without people” he said.”It’s the resource that is often overlooked and not given enough credit.
We tasted Reyneke’s 2011 Chenin Blanc; and the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, delicately laced with ripe white stone fruit, white floral aromas, creamy richness with seamless integration of acidity and alcohol and sublime weight. Also tasted the 2010 Capstone Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Franc provides a rustic earthiness reminiscent of mushrooms, tobacco, and wet forest floor. These traits were detectable in this chewy wine, along with notes of vanilla and espresso, figs and a touch of spice. It’s a great food wine, enjoyable to drink now, yet this wine will mellow nicely over the next couple of years.
Next we visited Backsberg Estate, situated along the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountains, midway between Paarl and Stellenbosch, where we had a guided tour of the vineyard, in tractors, conducted by Marketing Manager Simon Back. Backsberg has a major focus on energy and water management and has become the first wine producer in South Africa and one of only three in the world to gain Carbon Neutral status by sequestrating its carbon emissions.
A carbon audit reviewed all its farming and wine-making activities from overall energy consumption, to CO2 emitted during fermentation. At the same time, Backsberg is a BWI Champion, partnering with the conservation sector to protect natural habitat and wildlife.
It is also a socially responsible operation. Backsberg created the Freedom Road housing project to create a situation whereby permanent workers of Backsberg could acquire title to their own homes free of substantial debt. The history of agricultural housing there meant that if a worker lost his or her job, they lost the right to live on the farm. Backsberg wanted to break this tradition and give workers the freedom to choose where they wanted to work without being concerned about housing Essentially a cause marketing initiative, two wines were released under the “Freedom Road” label, sold primarily to the UK supermarket group Tesco, to fund the project.
We tasted the full range of Backsberg wines including the flagship Family Reserve White Blend 2009 and Family Reserve Red 2005. The make-up of the white blend varies by vintage; 2009 saw a blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne and Viognier come together to create a wonderful medley of apricot and peach aromas, combined with vanilla and a creamy finish. This blend goes well with game, fish, Asian fusion and mild cheeses.
The Family Reserve Red combines Cabernet 34%, Merlot 26%, Cabernet Franc 18%, Shiraz 15%, Malbec 7% for exceptional flavors of cassis, raspberry and tobacco. This wine matches classic dinners such as roast beef or lamb. It can age 7 – 10 years. We also learned about the Tread Lightly wines produced by Backsberg, and tasted the 2008 Merlot and 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, the first certified wines in South Africa to be sold in the innovative PET soft bottles, and with screw tops. (http://treadlightly.co.za/)
Our final stop on the Sustainability Leaders tour was Avondale, a family-owned and managed estate near Paarl, certified organic and practicing biodynamic agriculture. Avondale makes great use of cover crops. Some might call cover crops “weeds”. However, a balanced, sustainable eco-system, explained Avondale owner Johnathan Grieve, is reliant on a dazzling diversity of plants that provide food and shelter for billions of micro-organisms. Plants live and die in the soil; and when they die they provide the macro and micro-nutrients for the next burst of life. This creates a closed nutrient cycle that does not need costly inputs, nor does it create waste it is sustainable. Avondale makes use of up to 10 different mixes of cover crops and many of the cover crops also make vital nutrients available to the vines, such as the legume varieties that bind nitrogen in the soil.
At Avondale we met the duck family – a large group of ducks raised on the farm and responsible for keeping pests, especially snails, at bay. From a CSR perspective, Avondale has also established a day care center, after school care – with computers – as well as supported training programsfor vineyard workers. Some have graduated to assistant wine maker and other senior responsibilities at the wine farm. According to Grieve: We don’t want anyone to think that we are responsible for people bettering their circumstances. This is untrue and would, in fact, undermine the determination and courage of these people who are dedicated to supporting their families. Avondale has assisted in providing the necessary means to enable one to grow their own talents and abilities through education, should they wish to do so. The achievements of our workers have all been their own- we merely facilitated this process.
We tasted Avondale’s Anima 2010 their sparkling wine — Methode Classique (which I loved!) and the red blend, La Luna. Anima is made from 100% certified organic Chenin Blanc grapes. They call it Anima the word refers to the vital life force or soul — because the lively minerals of Avondale’s soils give this wine its own delicious, spirited character and extraordinary finesse. Anima has a nose of winter melon, pineapple, lime and a hint of honey. The palate is dense with fresh fruit flavors of gooseberry, quince and peach. This wine will age for 6-8 years. La Luna (the moon) is 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20 % Merlot and 20% Petit Verdot. These come from organically grown vines, ranging from 10-15 years in age. This classic blend offers scents of cedar, truffles and dark fruit with subtle forest and herb undertones. On tasting you get full plum and mulberry flavors, spicy and soft tannins with good structure and acidity. This will drink best in 2016 and beyond.
Camissa, Avondale’s Ros’, is made from 60% Muscat de Frontignan and 40% Mourvedre grapes, the vines naturally cultivated and certified organic. It is fresh and great for food pairing with spicy dishes — Thai, ginger, curries and Cape Malay cuisine.
All in all an enjoyable day full of new insights, information and tasting some outstanding wines. Also with the recent controversy and bad press surrounding the poor treatment of workers on wine farms in South Africa, it was nice to hear some good news for a change. All three of these wine farms are equally as determined in making a difference to their communities as they are to making sales. All three wineries we visited are committed to equity in its treatment of workers.
Finally, I spent the last day of my South Africa visit with my friend Suzanne Ackerman Berman, who was an Aspen Institute First Mover Fellow with me in 2009 (http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/business-society). She is South African, lives in Capetown and she showed me around Constantia Valley where she grew up. Constantia Valley is Cape Town’s Vineyard, located at the center of the Cape Peninsula, only minutes from the center of town; Constantia Valley is Cape Town’s secret rural retreat and the perfect place to escape, away from the hustle and bustle of city-life, in minutes.
Suzanne and I had tastings at Buitenverwachting Winery (try saying that name five times really fast!) and Klein Constantia. Of course I knew of Klein Constantia’s reputation dating back to Napoleon who counted this sweet wine among his favorites, but had never visited the winery or tasted a flight of vintages. It was a great experience. In the Klein Constantia tasting room, I spoke with a young African guy who looked no older than 20. Turns out he was the winemaker and extremely knowledgeable about the wine and several vintages. As we spoke he and the others working in the tasting room realized I too knew a lot about wine and so they offered me a flight of several vintages of Vin de Constance to taste. My favorite was the 2004, but they had none available for sale. Then to my surprise Wayne Smith, a gentleman who works on the farm, mentioned that he holds back bottles of each vintage but he would be willing to sell me one of his bottles at the same price as the 2007 (even though the 2004 is valued at three times the price). He was so kind and just wanted to share this wonderful nectar with a fellow wine lover.
Just proves the human connections that happen and are fostered by the love of wine. What a wonderful finish to informative and enjoyable wine travels great wine, discovering a region relatively unknown to American wine consumers, best in class sustainability programs, meeting wine makers as well as making wonderful personal connections!