By Ben Turner
The greening of the wine industry as a whole is bigger and bigger news each year. Many vineyards the world over are making their wines organic or their vineyards sustainable, as an ever increasing number of consumers become ever more savvy to the concept. The folks down at South Africa’s Graham Beck are no exception with their successful environmental practises.
The statistics are convincing. For every hectare farmed, 4.4 hectares are conserved; indigenous biomass has increased by 46% in less than ten years, and erosion has shrunk by 42%. Some 3 million litres of water is cleaned per month for use in irrigation; producing better quality water than is found in the Breede River that intersects the Robertson farm.
The use of technology in harmony with ecology rules supreme. Conservation Manager Mossie Basson speaks eloquently of infrared mapping of soils – this being used to determine the rootstocks most likely to prosper on the various sites. The software is also used to predict vineyard disease, doing away with damaging “best guess” blanket spray regimes.
Computer-based systems are also in place to protect scarce resources. “Water is precious here, and especially in Franschhoek,” Mossie says. “We use a dashboard system to record our water use, indicating how close we are to reducing usage, to reach our monthly goals.” The same applies to fuel and electricity; while on-site waste is now at a perfect 100% recycling rate.
A philosophy to limit damage, and live with creatures usually considered pests, has generated some of the simpler and more entertaining ideas. Baboon patrol at Robertson consists of an old bicycle with a whistle and flag, made from a stick and a seed bag. The system is the brainchild of an experienced vineyard hand, who calls for reinforcements on a two way radio when the baboons decide that man on the bike is not a serious threat!
Ultimately, as Mossie points out, the Graham Beck greening philosophy depends on an all-in approach. “We consider ourselves to be eco warriors; whose mission it is to leave the farms in a better state than we found them,” he says. It’s a mission taken seriously by the workers on the farms: and a clear indication of the great esteem in which Graham Beck was held. Himself an avid and generous conservationist, his passing only seems to have secured an even greater resolve to live out his belief that people are only ever custodians of the land.
Recognition for all this work recently came with Graham Beck Wines winning the Nedbank Best Environmental Practices Award for its integrated approach to wine production at both the Robertson and Franschhoek properties.