The WWF Conservation Champions driving change in South Africa’s Wine Industry.

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Did you know that when it comes to our wine of choice, that delicious environmentally friendly options are available? I didn’t until I was gifted a WWF Conservation Champions Nature & Wine hamper.

95% of SA’s wine is grown in the Cape Winelands, an area that is home to two global biodiversity hotspots – the Succulent Karoo and the Cape Floral Kingdom, both with unique habitats found nowhere else in the world. The WWF-SA Conservation Champions Programme celebrates this natural heritage and the South African farms that sustainably produce their fine wines here. The program prides itself on supporting viable and regenerative agriculture, specifically viticulture, and recognises the conservation efforts of the champion farms that inspire and promote sustainability.

It is important for consumers to consider the impact on the environment when selecting their favourite glass of wine, opting to celebrate a ‘greener’ choice and wines that are produced in harmony with nature.

The combination of wine and conservation

In the early 2000s, the wine industry was growing rapidly and the vineyard footprint was expanding into highly-threatened conservation-worthy habitats. This spurred the start of a unique and powerful partnership between the conservation sector and the wine industry. With farmers the custodians of the land, the onus is on them to ensure that they farm in harmony with nature and ensure that the areas are protected. With a changing climate and ever-increasing costs, it is also necessary for collaboration with clearing river catchments of water-thirsty alien vegetation as well as preventing wildfires.

WWF South Africa’s Involvement

WWF provides advisory support to eligible and committed wine farms as part of a land and water stewardship programme. Through a voluntary membership model, WWF works with the environmental leaders in SA’s wine industry known as the Conservation Champions. These landowners commit to biodiversity-friendly farming practices, conserve their natural areas and continually improve their water and energy efficiencies. WWF supports these farms in their efforts by co-developing detailed environmental management plans, setting tangible targets and helping them to address their most pressing environmental issues.

The programme was initiated in 2004 as the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI). Over the next decade, the BWI team worked with over 250 landowners and cellars to set up their environmental management plans and put systems in place. By 2015, over 90% of the South African wine industry was able to certify their wine as being environmentally friendly. The program was then restructured to focus exclusively on the industry leaders – WWF’s Conservation Champions.

Even after experiencing the worst drought in decades, and an ever-changing climate, many Conservation Champion farms that have implemented the sustainable farming practices – and with conservation at their core – have been able to maintain their productivity and their businesses are growing from strength to strength and the SA wine industry has been internationally recognised as leaders in the global wine sector for demonstrating the balance between nature and farming.

Membership requires rigorous attention to the landscape, alien vegetation clearing, replanting of fynbos species, water, waste and energy management and a consolidated look at farming methods. It is about respect for the environment, something that not only ensures good farming practices but creates harmony and minimises footprint.

After all, the quality and taste of the wine that we drink is influenced by the balance of the soil, the terroir and the connection that the land’s custodians have with nature.

Look out for the instantly recognisable Conservation Champion Sugarbird logo on the bottles, which will easily guide you to the wines estates doing things right.

This initiative creatively links consumers to an excellent array of wines, where and how they were produced – and I encourage you to support them.

My WWF Conservation Champions Nature & Wine hamper smells and tastes of Spring. With a bottle of Vondeling Monsonia 2016, Delheim Pinotage Rosé 2020, Spier Wine in a Can Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Merlot as well as a bunch of freshly picked proteas and fynbos – all accompanied by a handwritten note.

I can’t wait to try the delicious soulfully produced wines and am most grateful. For the gifts, and awareness and the conscious guidance that I’ll apply to my wine purchases.

Look out for the #followthesugarbird logo to guide your choices and simultaneously support the Conservation Champions Farms that contribute to the country’s conservation efforts.

To make it easier, download the WWF Champions Wines App and use it to guide you to the wine farms that are acknowledged as environmental leaders in the industry for their commitment to conservation, responsible production practices, integrated environmental management systems, and spearheading innovations in water, energy efficiency and climate adaptation.

Learn more at WWF South Africa’s Conservation Champions and Follow The Sugarbird on Instagram to stay ahead of updates. Their Sustainable Pocket Guide is very comprehensive too and will make an ideal navigation tool when headed out to explore the Winelands.

‘Being sustainable is not an option, its an obligation’ – Chef Gregory Czarnecki, Waterkloof Wines.

** I was gifted the box of sensory spoils by WWF South Africa in exchange for some help spreading the very good word.

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