Easing into Green

By Kim Maxwell

Faced with supermarket shelves of fresh produce and mass-produced factory items, we would be naive not to be aware of what we’re eating. Wallets and time permitting, most of us are inclined to make the healthier, more sustainably-farmed choice, the one that is kinder to the environment. But start applying the green theme to wines and it’s a little more confusing. A multitude of stickers and back labels punt natural to organic. Is it only about ticking boxes to qualify for green certification or medals, or is there more to the story?

WATERKLOOF’S reasoning is that biodynamic farming, partnered with minimal-intervention winemaking via a gravity-fed cellar, enables “wines of vitality”. The Helderberg farm initially experimented with a few hectares of biodynamic vineyard. Then, seeing positive results, converted the rest of the 56-hectare farm.

“Our conventional methods to control pests and viruses in the vines were repeatedly unsuccessful, so we were forced to think out of the box with biodynamic methods,” explains farm manager Christiaan Loots. “By definition, a biodynamic farm is where the soil is without conventional problems. Most importantly, the soil needs carbon—something conventionally-farmed vineyards rarely have.” This all takes time.

Waterkloof achieved biodynamic status during its tenth year of winemaking with the 2015 harvest. Christiaan had to transform acidic, compacted ground into organic-rich “living” soil with a diverse microbial and fungal count. Did the outcome affect what’s in the bottle? Winemaker Nadia Barnard reports yields have reduced but grape quality is much improved since they started organic and biodynamic farming in 2007.

“At Waterkloof we make all our compost from scratch using manure from animals on the farm. We grow plants used for making the different preparations. And we’re continuously searching for natural elements to keep the soil healthy. With healthy soils we truly express wine terroir,” says Nadia. The Waterkloof Sauvignon Blanc, and the entire Circumstance range, will be certified biodynamic by late 2015.

Web. www.waterkloofwines.co.za, Tel. 021-858-1292

AVONDALE’S BIOLOGIC® system uses natural, certified organic and biodynamic approaches, combined with 21st-century science, technology and knowledge.

“For me it’s important to learn from Mother Nature and see how the system worked before chemicals were introduced,” says owner Johnathan Grieve. Avondale’s most sought after wine is the La Luna Bordeaux-style blend.

Johnathan is critical of conventional farming’s over-reliance on chemicals. He says you can taste a difference in the naturally-farmed wines: “It’s been an incredible journey over the years to see how Avondale’s wines have changed, specifically how the brightness of fruit has shone through. We see the development through vertical tastings over various vintages.

“It’s much more about getting the maximum expression, than only an organic or biodynamic certification sticker on the bottle,” says Johnathan. “That said, I believe a lot of green washing occurs in the industry, so it’s important to have an external stamp of approval.”

Web. www.avondalewine.co.za, Tel. 021-863-1976

Nudity ‘zero sulphite’ Syrah is RADFORD DALE’S first natural, non-interventionist wine offering. It has zero sulphites, zero additives and zero new oak. Sourced from one block, from one certified organic grower’s vineyard, around 400 12-bottle cases of this super-premium label are in production.

“Natural, less-manipulated wines are nothing new. They’re about stopping messing about in the cellar and getting it right in the vineyards,” says Alex Dale.

“Nudity is natural everything: ferments and yeasts; no adjustments to acidity; no filtering or fining. It’s a pure naked wine in every sense, from vineyard to bottle, completely unadulterated.

“Consumers are more conscious of what they’re putting into their bodies, and this wine was driven by our tastes at the winery,” he adds. “Our crew here drinks refreshing whites and reds. The wines tend to have lower pH, higher acidity and lower alcohol.” Nudity’s alcohol is around 12,5 per cent.

Web. www.thewineryofgoodhope.com, Tel. 021-855-5528

Stellenbosch producer Audacia’s green offering sets them apart with a locally lekker hook that could have potential health benefits. Co-owner Trevor Strydom’s experiments led to AUDACIA’S maiden 2012 Merlot being produced with antioxidant-rich rooibos and honeybush wood chips. This eliminated the need for sulphur and other common winemaking preservatives.

In the process, pricy imported oak barrels (and staves, chips and powders) were replaced with toasted indigenous wood chips, utilising the potential anti-oxidant benefits of rooibos and honeybush during the wine fermentation and ageing processes. Since the 2013 vintage, Audacia’s patented indigenous wood winemaking process has produced an Audacia ‘No Sulphites or Preservatives Added’ rooibos-wooded Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc and Natural white.

Web. www.audacia.co.za, Tel. 021-881-3052

REYNEKE is one of South Africa’s more established green producers, with a long list of biodynamic and organic wine awards vouching for their wine quality. The certified biodynamic range of this boutique winery uses Stellenbosch grapes, and they buy in some fruit for their organic range.

“There’s a lot to be said for the way winemaking used to be in the olden days. No chemicals, no technological advancements that made the process a process. And natural balance was more important than balance sheets,” says Johan Reyneke.

“Some people dismiss it as old-fashioned nostalgia, but we like to think of it as ancient wisdom. We embrace it as much as we can. Not just because it’s better for the earth, but because it makes for better wine.”

Web. www.reynekewines.co.za, Tel. 021-881-3517

Craig Hawkins is arguably the South African leader of natural, non-interventionist wines that typically shout out natural acidity, freshness and drink-me-early. His focused TESTALONGA range has barely-evident oak; his reds are pressed early. “You can’t make natural wine on a large scale because it needs more attention,” says Craig. He’s known for his Cortez Chenin Blanc and King of Grapes Grenache. Currently he gets his grapes from rented organic Paardeberg vineyards but Craig and his wife Carla recently bought a Swartland farm, which they’ll plant with vines.

“The wines I make are always low in sulphur, but that’s not the defining point,” says Craig. “A healthy vineyard allows proper focus on pruning, to suckering, to harvesting, at the right time and on the right soils. If you’re working huge volumes, something has to give. And you have to add additives and things.” Craig never does. He says Testalonga wines don’t overpower subtle foods. “And so, unsurprisingly, they’re coveted in European and Japanese restaurants.”

“I find natural wines to be a bit of an upper,” says Craig. “Drinking them makes you happy.”

Email. testalongawines@gmail.com, Tel. 072-601-6475