For almost forty years South African wines exported in bottle have carried a small sticker, known locally as ‘the bus ticket’, whose code numbers allow the wine to be traced back to the producer. The sticker certifies that statements on the label about vintage, contents and origin are true, and that the wine has passed a tasting test by a team of inspectors. The two numbers on the seal identify the producer and the wine inside. Quality wines are under inspection from officers of the Wine & Spirit Board all the way from the vineyard to bottling. Only those wines to be sold without mention of vintage, origin and grape variety escape attention – plus those intended for export in bulk for bottling overseas.
Now a new layer has been added to certification. South Africa has been working towards sustainability since 1998 when Integrated Production of Wine guidelines were first published and they are now met by more than 95% of growers and wineries.
With a tiny exception all South African wine is grown near the coast at the southern tip of Africa in an area called the Cape Floral Kingdom. This is a World Heritage site and the smallest and richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms. More than 10,000 different plant species live there with 70% growing nowhere else.
Since the Dutch East India Company first established a station at the Cape 350 years ago many foreign plants have been introduced. Most of these need much more water than indigenous plants and high priority is being given to the replacing of these ‘aliens’ with local vegetation.
Of course, grape vines are alien plants but we want to keep these so for balance vineyard owners have set aside more than 120,000 hectares for conservation in the past five years. In most wine farms acreage devoted to grapevines is matched or outweighed by that dedicated to natural vegetation under schemes managed by WWF Biodiversity and Wildlife Initiative.
The new Integrity and Sustainability seal introduced with the 2010 vintage certifies that not only is the label information correct, that the vines is traceable back to the vineyard but that the wine was grown and made and bottles sustainably and the vineyards and wineries involved have passed WWF Biodiversity and Wildlife Initiative audits by independent inspectors.
To check the code numbers on the seal: www.swsa.co.za
For more information on sustainability and removal of alien vegetation see www.bwi.co.za and www.wwf.co.za/waterneutral
Have you seen the new sticker? What do you think about Sustainability in wine? Tell us on our forum.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape. Now availabe as a KIndle eBook