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South African Wine: the next 100 years
To understand where we are headed, we must look back to where we have come from. Back over 500 million years ago to a series of collisions between the South American, African, Indian and Antarctic continents known as the pan-African event. A result of this upheaval was the depositing of Malmesbury rocks, shale and granite, on the earth’s surface here in the Cape. This shale, the bedrock of our vineyards, is so old that it contains no fossils. There was only cellular life way back then, no vertebrates. South Africa had no ice age, so our soils have lain here weathering and crumbling through the millennia.
Back to the beginnings of time when modern thinking first evolved with the hunter-gatherers in South Africa. Here in the Western Cape, we can trace thinking man all the way back some 77 000 years.
The /Xam San, known in colonial times as the Bushmen, were the painters of the rock art we find in the Cape Fold Mountains. They were the original environmentalists, regulating their behaviour in harmony with plant and animal cycles, astral movements and climatic phenomena. They saw land as a source of life – a gift to mankind that nourishes, supports and teaches.
Today in our democracy, our wine industry is in a unique position to benefit from this rich heritage, to now fully understand our environment, and to relearn this sense of belonging to a natural place. The /Xam San had a word for this, which neatly embodies the new philosophy of the South African wine industry.
The word is ≠hannuwa. This ancient San word means the gathering of good fortune through living in sustainable harmony with our natural environment.
So then what does ≠hannuwa have to do with our wine? This is not all smoke and mirrors. Let’s look at the facts. This is our heritage:
- the oldest viticultural soils in the world, weathered over the millennia
- the most biodiverse place on earth - over 9 600 plants
- two oceans embracing our winelands with winds and mists
- an extraordinary diversity of people, free to bring their influence to our wines
There is no other wine country that can match this.
Today we have heard how our biodiversity is being actively preserved through the dynamic Biodiversity & Wine Initiative. This is where we are:
- Over 17 000 hectares identified and conserved in year one
- Biodiversity guidelines incorporated into our IPW scheme
- A decision by the Wine & Spirit Board that within three years no wine will be exported without full compliance to sustainable farming
That is a truly fantastic achievement.
WOSA has driven a huge awareness campaign inwards to all our producers because we know that the ≠hannuwa philosophy must take root where it all starts, at farm level. In total, we have over 4 000 primary producers, many of them mixed farmers. In December 2005, WOSA mailed them a commitment to sign and a diversity survey to complete. To date over 570 producers representing more than 40% of land planted to vine have signed the following pledge:
I HEREBY COMMIT MYSELF:
- To farm sustainably.
- To be a custodian of the land and preserve it for our future generations.
- To nurture a culture of respect among the people who work with us on our farms and in our cellars.
- To promote an environment of dignity, equality and upliftment for all.
- To protect the unique and valuable biodiversity of our winelands.
- To safeguard the rich heritage of South Africa’s winelands.
The pledges received to date have been bound and are on display outside the hall today. 390 farms completed the survey identifying what they believe is unique and worth preserving on their farms. These range from San rock paintings, unique fynbos and renosterveld, farmhouses from the 16 and 1700s, ottters in the dams, leopards in the mountains, a new butterfly species first identified in 2002, and 100-year-old vineyards. It is truly a rich and wondrous list.
WOSA plans in the next year to get all the producers to sign the commitment and to move towards joining the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative. We believe that getting producers to embrace ≠hannuwa will not be difficult, as most South African farmers have an exceptional affinity and passion for their land. Certainly this has been our experience to date. And each individual farm is excited by the unique story on his or her land.
What does this biodiversity story mean for the actual wine we drink? Surely the promise of great wines to come. The same micro-climates and weathered soils that give us 9 600 plant species yield a treasure trove of grapegrowing and winemaking possibilities, the potential to make exceptionally interesting, complex, and authentic wines.
This promise then is the story of the future South African wines. It is why already it is clear there is no one typical flavour profile for our wines. Why a sauvignon blanc from Elim is different to one from Elgin, or Robertson, or Constantia or Durbanville, or Stellenbosch or Darling. It is a story that the wine enthusiasts can unpack and debate as they discover a new vocabulary of fynbos, renosterveld, and ≠hannuwa.
But it is also a message that can be simplified for consumers, so that the appeal is more emotional and engaging. And as cities get bigger, traffic gets worse, allergies increase, and Mad Cow disease and Bird flu hit headlines, so consumers long for what is natural, for traceable provenance and authenticity. Consumers are fed up with industrial farming. Variety is in our Nature, which is WOSA’s new line, touches that emotion at its heartbeat.
And this is not just about today’s advertising campaign. This is a long-term positioning that we will be building for years to come. Only South Africa can make these claims.
So looking ahead at the next 100 years, we can suggest:
- South Africa has 100 000 hectares under vine and our growth is likely to be restricted to another 60 000 hectares, primarily because of water.
- We will be a niche player delivering premium wines to a thinking market.
- South Africans will be passionately making wines that are distinctive and different, authentic.
- Our wine proposition will be constantly changing as we open up this treasure trove of possibilities of new areas, new varieties, new complexity.
- We will reap the benefits our incredible diversity of people will bring to winemaking and wine marketing.
- South Africa will become the most desirable wine and ecotourism destination on the planet (your children will envy you your visits here), as we will have kept vast tracks of our land conserved in perpetuity.
≠Hannuwa is an African wisdom that is now more than 70 000 years old. We African wine people are embracing it with enthusiasm and we all ignore it at our peril.