ROOTSTOCK meets on green issues

Friday, 4 December, 2009
Nikki Lordan, WINE.CO.ZA
In the week leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on Monday December 7, Reuters' Nina Chestney reports global sea levels are estimated to rise by a total of 1.4 meters by 2100.
In the midst of such reports members of Rootstock, the quarterly wine forum for active minds in the industry, met up for the final meeting of the year to discuss environmental issues within the winemaking spectrum. Members of the panel included current leaders in the greening of winemaking; biodynamic wine farmer Johan Reyneke (Reyneke Wines), organic diva Michelle du Preez (Bon Cap), carbon neutral Michael Back (Backsberg) and Bio-LOGIC naturalist Johnathan Grieve of Avondale.

Whether one prefers to reduce carbon, go organic, be biodynamic or bio-LOGIC, it all seems to boil down to balance. These farming methods force a "paradigm shift to make you as farmer more sensitive to nature," explains Johan Reyneke. Very much the same thing, organic and biodynamic farming both seek to sustain ecosystems, but biodynamic farming entails more holistic principles and much more strict guidelines than those required for organic certification. Interestingly enough, biodynamic 'predates the organic movement by about 20 years", according to

Although dynamic, Michelle du Preez of Bon Cap prefers the practices of organic farming above the biodynamic approach. Organic farming relies on the "carbon bank and stimulated soil microbial communities to increase soil fertility" and therefore strives to increase carbon levels in soil. According to OrganicSouthAfrica soil contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere. Organic farming therefore involves maintaining and increasing soil organic matter to develop a CO2 bank that could absorb fossil fuel emissions - which basically means taking carbon out of the air and putting it back into the soil.

Faced with very different climatic conditions than the rest of the winelands, Bon Cap receives an annual rainfall of 135-150mm compared to the Stellenbosch rainfall of 600-800mm per annum (CapeNature). This was predominantly the driving force of organic farming since you're not "feeding the plant, but the soil" and by increasing the carbon in soil you increase the soil's water holding capacity.

Bio-LOGIC, says Johnathan Grieve of Avondale, "translates into natural farming". Apparently this method of farming uses the "key elements of accepted organic and biodynamic farming methods, but goes further in its strive for a more holistic approach".

Although some might argue that these environmentally friendly farming methods are for "tree-huggers" or based purely on a marketing scheme, Michael Back believes at the end of the day "everyone will merge into the same way of farming" due to lower water levels and a warmer climate. The particular farming method one can argue is therefore not that important, as it seems the only big difference between them is the level of holistic approach and the word equilibrium instead of balance.

As the Garden Route between Mossel Bay and Knysna experiences the worst drought in 132 years (Die Burger), South Africa is starting to realise the full effect of global warming. In a country faced with regular severe water shortages, winemakers will sooner rather than later be forced to apply some of these methods to their winemaking practices.

"These farming methods can be seen as drawing a line in the sand to move this industry at least more into the right direction," says BWI project coordinator, Inge Kotze.

Biodynamic, organic, bio-LOGIC or carbon neutral stickers on a label might be good for wine sales, but the importance lies not in certifying as organic or biodynamic, but rather in the implementation of these agricultural methods to ensure the sustainable development of agriculture in South Africa.

The fact remains, Kotze concluded, "we'll see the effects of water shortages way before we see those of global warming."

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