Winemaker Charles on Aspiring Towards a Sustainable Future…
“We have not inherited the earth from our fathers. We have borrowed it from our children.”
-Lester R. Brown, American Environmental Analyst-
Most recently, I came across this very striking quote which resonated quite strongly with me. To be honest, I could not have phrased it any better myself. One does not have to be a big naturalist to know what the human influence would be on our – now fragile – environment. We continuously get reminded of this. Social media and numerous scientists prompt us daily about our industrial footprint’s impact on Mother Nature and how we should aspire towards preserving a more sustainable future.
According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), half of the earth’s fertile topsoil have been lost in the last 150 years. It has been recorded that we are annually losing an estimated 1% of all topsoil, mainly ascribed to erosion. This is also due to the depletion of the soil quality/ vitality, caused by the universal effects of poor agricultural practices.
Being so reliant on nature for our livelihood, the question therefore inevitably emerged; “Where should change be initiated?” For us the answer was quite simple… In our own backyard.
We at De Toren, have always believed in sustainable farming and have practised this over the past 19 years. The more research we conducted on the topic of soil health, the more we were lead in the direction of organic farming to ensure longer term soil health. Hence, we took a leap of faith about 2 years ago and started farming with 100% organic soil.
The reason for this shift is to progressively stimulate our soil’s health, which in turns enables greater plant growth, increased immunity and self-protection to produce even more balanced and complex berries. It’s a holistic approach of saying that we do not only want to sustain the quality of soils, but we actually want to improve the soils during our tenure as custodians and gift it to our successors as improved soils. (Click here to read our Marketing Manager, Anja’s previous article on our organic farming practices at De Toren)
For us, this approach goes much further than just our arable land. As mentioned, we take a comprehensive look by evaluating all our winemaking practices and how it impacts the planet. Hence, we strive to convert normal by-products of production into “sustainability enhancers”, and here is just how we do that…
Compost is one of our main sources of organic by-products generated at De Toren. This includes all the green material, such as the stems and declassified berries which is generated during our harvesting season’s activities. After lightly pressing our berries, we recycle the berries’ skins. This, all together then forms part of our compost heap. With a 1:5 Nitrogen to Carbon ratio, we then bind the compost by mixing this compilation with 1% clay, ultimately creating humus, a powerful and stable source of vitality to any soil. Humus significantly affects the bulk density of the soil and contributes to its retention of moisture and nutrients. It has many nutrients that improve the health of soil, nitrogen being the most important.
In addition to this, we also preserve a separate compost compilation, which we generate from any garden refuse. We even have an area where we will compost material that is too thick to compost in one year over a medium term of 5 years.
Moreover, using cleaning materials very sensibly in the cellar, we only generate a small amount of effluent. The quality of the latter is of such a standard that it can actually be used for keeping our compost nice and moist which enhances microbe activity and speeds up composting. As a result, this nullifies the volume of effluent to treat and discard, allowing us to augment De Toren’s sustainable footprint.
Worm Farm (“Nature’s Shredder”)
Being an operational wine cellar and working with packaging, it is inevitable that carton “waste” will be generated. Luckily, we are able to put this “waste” to very good use at De Toren. We make use of our larger, remaining carton cases when replanting small vines into an established vineyard. The process and reasoning behind this being; that in an established vineyard, vines constantly compete with each other for water and resources. When one plants new vines into an established vineyard, it is often found that these vines get out-competed for resources and struggle to thrive or survive. By lining the new vine’s planting hole with a carton box, it will form a barrier, lasting about one year. This helps keep the adjacent developed vines’ roots away from the new vine, allowing it enough time to establish itself.
Any remaining carton or paper waste that is not used for replanting, gets channelled towards our worm farm – our “natural shredder”. Here, earthworms feast on, and decompose these materials, rendering nature’s own ‘rescue remedy’, a highly fertile concoction that adds life and vitality back into the soil.
Our estate has a very limited amount of fallow areas that is not used for production. In enhancing our sustainable & organic footprint, the majority of these areas are slowly being repopulated with pioneer indigenous plants, known as Fynbos (i.e. proteas) and indigenous Renosterbos (the ugly duckling sibling of the Fynbos family). These indigenous plants will slowly but surely reclaim all fallow land at De Toren. In the areas that are not suitable for Fynbos, we have established Hedgerows with Kayapple shrubs as well as a powerful indigenous CO2 absorber, Spekboom. These shrubs do not only avoid soil erosion, it also houses birds and a great amount of natural predatory insects, like ladybirds, which helps us in the fight against any form of mealybug and concurrently preventing grapevine leaf roll disease from occurring in our vineyards.
Distilling Wine Lees
Furthermore, on maintaining an organic and sustainable footprint at De Toren, we even go as far as to have all the by-products of the physical processes of winemaking (lees) collected and recycled by a South African company that then distils the alcohol, anthocyanins (red colour pigment) and Tartaric acid out of it. They then resell it in the local wine industry, in order to reduce the import costs and simultaneously the carbon footprint that is endured when importing these very products.
Water, Our Most Valuable Resource
The recent drought that we have been experiencing in the Western Cape of South Africa has prompted us to once again evaluate how we deal with water – a fundamental, life resource. (Click here to read my previous article on our Drought Strategy) In aspiring towards an enhanced sustainable future, we have converted our cellar’s gutter systems to capture all the roof’s rain, amounting to almost 250m3 of reserved water. In turn, this is then used to sustain our young inter-planted vines, providing them with extra irrigation during the dryer weather conditions, as well as our fynbos and hedges that forms part of our flora diversity.
In the end, for me, it really all funnels down to an old, powerful saying that goes; “People need nature, nature does not need people.” I believe that it is our obligation to limit our effect on nature as much as possible and through these simple adjustments and reuse of resources, we can build a better life for our communities’ children. Thus, our focus at De Toren from here onwards will remain the long-term sustainability of our vines. This will ensure healthier soils and plants, which will produce even better, more balanced and complex berries for our wines’ production.