How the Nedbank award was won; the greening of Graham Beck Wines

Tuesday, 23 November, 2010
Graham Beck Wines
In an industry whose eco efforts can boast some significant firsts, choosing the category winners at the Nedback Green Wine Awards can't be an easy task. "A multitude of ways to go green" was found in the submissions for 2010 - this describing daily work at Graham Beck Wines, winner of the Best Environmental Practice Award.
The statistics are convincing at the Graham Beck properties. 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 than the water found in the Breede River that intersects the Robertson farm.

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. Of soil probes that determine moisture and therefore irrigation needs. Of modelling software that's 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, and indicate how close we are to reducing 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 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 bike is not a serious threat.

Hot sauce dosing works a treat in keeping Eland away; and only need be done on the first two vineyard rows. Guinea fowl and Francolin are best at controlling bugs, raptors for rodents - and so it goes.

Staff training is part of the plan, along with community days: tree planting at crèche among the many activities. "Six of the young people who grew up on the farm now work for the Department of Environmental Affairs," Mossie says. This comes as little surprise to those who know Mossie, their mentor, well; his lifelong work and ambition contributing materially to the formation of the Graham Beck conservation site.

The area, which totals 2,203 hectares, contains a large portion of the rare and valuable Succulent Karoo ecosystem; and is voluntarily managed as a pristine site. Conservation finds include the endangered Riverine Rabbit and Breede sand fybos veld - this comprising 600 hectares of 4,500 hectares remaining in the world. Mossie revises the biodiversity plan annually, adding projects and targets that involve surrounding farms.

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.