Rootstock: Discussing eco-friendly and organic wines in the Cape

A couple of weeks ago I ventured out to Backsberg Estate to attend a discussion on eco-friendly and organic wines.  The event was organised by Rootstock, a “collection of young people from the South African wine industry (the rootstock) who get together from time to time to discuss topics of interest to young people in the wine industry…”

On the agenda, four passionate producers who are making a difference in their field:

  • Michael Back from Backsberg on CARBON NEUTRAL
  • Michelle du Preez from Bon Cap on their ORGANIC approach
  • Johnathan Grieve from Avondale –  on their BIO LOGIC approach
  • Johan Reyneke from Reyneke Wines – on his BIODYNAMIC approach

I’ve heard two of them speak before (Michael Back and Johan Reyneke), but this time was a little different – it was more of a debate, with some tough questions asked.  Each farm has its own way of doing things.  Backsberg, for example, is not organic, instead choosing to focus on the carbon neutral approach.  Bon Cap is proudly organic but not necessarily carbon neutral.  Avondale and Reyneke wines are taking organic to another level… But is any one of them ‘greener’ than the other?

And, a hotly debated topic: are BWI-certified wine estates really as eco-friendly as they’re marketed to be?  Reserving a portion of land for biodiversity is fantastic, of course, but is that enough to be considered ‘green’?  It’s a tricky one, and I certainly don’t know the answer (though I’m definitely in favour of natural farming versus the chemical- and pesticide-filled versions).

We’ve explored this topic before, and if you’re interested in an overview of what they’re doing to keep things eco-friendly – it’s worth checking out a new video clip on WineTube (created by Charles Lourens of Bottle Plate Pillow).  The footage doesn’t include Reyneke Wines, unfortunately, but instead has a snippet about Mooiplaas, a BWI-member estate near Stellenbosch.

The clip will give you an understanding of what organic wine is, how it is produced and how you can get involved and do your bit to offset your carbon emissions and help to preserve our natural surrounds.

Michelle du Preez from Bon Cap Estate and Jonathan Grieve from Avondale Estate have some insightful answers. In a nutshell, it is produced without any chemicals or pesticides, which enables the wineries to contribute to the sustainability of our environment (and means that it is healthier for us to drink too!).

Grieve also explains how simple and effective this process can be, for example Avondale has one hundred ducks roaming around their vineyards eating the snails as a natural and cost effective alternative to toxic snail bait.

Simon Back from Backsberg addresses another important aspect of ‘eco-friendly’ wines, explaining how Backsberg off sets all their carbon emissions, and explaining how consumers can get involved in the project too.

According to Tielman Roos, Mooiplaas Estate also wants to educate their visitors about their wines and the environment, and invite them to take a walk in the natural veldt before their wine tasting (pre-booking necessary).  (originally written by Emma Donovan for BottlePlatePillow)

BottlePlatePillow, if you haven’t encountered it yet, is an easy-to-use online directory for wine tasting and sales, winery restaurants, accommodation and fun activities on offer on wine estates in South Africa. And, if you’re looking for eco-friendly wine estates, you can now search by ‘Green / Organic / Low sulphur’ to find a few to stop in at (not too many on there, but let’s hope that number grows)

WineTube is a recently incorporated video streaming section where users can watch, upload and share wine clips – and it seems to be nicely done.


  • Liz says:

    Re: “are BWI-certified wine estates really as eco-friendly as they’re marketed to be?”

    I don’t think BWI are marketing themselves as eco-friendly at all. They are marketing the preservation of fynbos.

    People often forget that the ‘winelands’ natural environment is actually fynbos. Yes, you can have Organic wine which is better for the environment, but how does that help if there is no natural environment left?

    In the end, the environment is a complex web of interactions and its important to understand the various components…so I would strongly support both BWI AND organic/biodynamic. And I think the labelling of these various initiatives is imperative to give the consumer education and information and so we can show support back.

    Wish I had gone to the Rootstock event too..and saved Mother City Living readers from my opinions!

  • Pia Taylor says:

    Hi Liz.
    Well, on BWI’s website they ask people to “support green wine”, which implies that all BWI wines are eco-friendly… and, in my opinion, having a section of land set aside for fynbos conservation isn’t necessarily enough to be called ‘green’ – there’s much more to it than that.

    Don’t get me wrong – I am definitely a supporter of BWI wines, I love that they’re creating a growing public awareness that we should be conserving the land and eco-systems in the first place.

    And I’m definitely not saying that organic is better than BWI – it’s just one factor of many, as you say. Like you, I favour a combination of both BWI and organic/biodynamic… and I hope more wineries will go that route.

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