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Farming for the Future


10 May 2018  -  Waterford Estate

The Waterford Way is to flow with nature’s cycles and to farm in an environmentally responsible way that not only protects the indigenous flora and fauna on the estate, but also the winery’s future.

Have you visited Waterford Estate before? Then you might know that the estate stretches over 120Ha of magnificent land in the Blaauwklippen Valley, but that only 55Ha of the estate is under vine; the rest is kept as natural as possible.

This is done very deliberately to protect the environment and to allow for a future in which the estate continues to produce world-class wines that truly express the terroir, explains Waterford Estate viticulturist David van Schalkwyk.

If the natural fauna and flora isn’t maintained to a certain degree, Waterford Estate’s soils will become depleted over time. “Naturally occurring plants, animals and insects will start to reduce,” David says. “Fungi, harmful insects and weeds will become more difficult to manage naturally and, ultimately, the vineyard’s life expectancy will be reduced.”

Sustainable wine farming is about much more than the grapes, as Janet Fletcher and George Rose explain in the self-published book, Down to Earth: “The principles that define sustainability are a comprehensive set of environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically viable best practices that encompass every aspect of the vineyard, winery, surrounding habitat, ecosystem, employees and community.”

As such, the Waterford team works hard at rehabilitating the areas on the estate that have been disturbed. “By maintaining a balance on the farm, we create an opportunity for natural predators and plants to influence the environment and the vines in their own unique way,” David says.

Part of Waterford Estate’s success in maintaining sustainable farming methods is the fact that David, winemaker Mark le Roux and cellar master / managing partner Kevin Arnold share similar philosophies.

“We keep things simple, both inside and outside of the cellar,” says David. “We try to interfere as little as possible, allowing nature to do its job. In this way, our wines also have the best chance of truly reflecting Waterford’s unique environment.” But, adds Mark, interfering as little as possible doesn’t mean the team gets to go on holiday more often! “Finding ways to improve or sustain wine quality without manipulation is an art,” the winemaker says.

Social responsibility also forms a key part of farming in a sustainable way, and David believes that a winery’s labour force is one of the most important elements in this equation. “You have to get buy-in from your people to make it work. We make our farm workers aware of sustainability best practices by hosting regular talks and workshops, and by educating them along the way.”

Thanks to Waterford Estate’s team of farm workers, several projects aimed at protecting the natural environment are currently underway. Every year, for example, the team replaces alien vegetation with 100-150 indigenous trees. They also make their own compost and use natural methods to protect the vines from animals (for instance, dog hair is used to scare buck away).

In dry years, the team also effectively makes use of drip irrigation, drastically cutting the winery’s water usage. This strategy has proved to be incredibly effective in 2017/2018, when the region’s wine production was dramatically impacted by a severe drought. While other wineries recorded low harvests, Waterford’s Cabernet Sauvignon harvest was up by 23%. The other varietals also coped remarkably well. “This just shows how the extreme drought has had very little effect on the vineyard,” Mark says. “It can survive the toughest conditions.”

David adds that, with the help of good sustainability practices, the team manages to cultivate stronger, healthier vines. By keeping the soils healthy, the plants are able to develop strong root systems that ultimately help them to cope with extreme weather conditions.

While Waterford Estate isn’t an organic winery, it certainly ticks all the right boxes when it comes to sustainable farming. “We farm with nature, for the future, and not just with vines,” David concludes. “But, of course, we also focus on producing top-quality grapes and world-class wines.”

Points to note:
– All wines currently produced at Waterford Estate qualify for the Integrity & Sustainability Seal, as the team has managed to maintain sustainable practices since the seal was introduced in 2010.
– Waterford Estate holds an Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) certificate for its sustainable, environmentally friendly production methods.
– Waterford Estate has Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) accreditation – proof that the estate maintains a high level of good-practice standards.
– Waterford Estate is a member of the Biodiversity in Wine Initiative (BWI), which means that we’re committed to environmentally friendly farming practices, the eradication of alien vegetation, and the promotion of indigenous fynbos.
– Waterford Estate is one of 37 wine brands with WWF Conservation Champion status.