The South African wine industry’s partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has the potential to substantially grow the international and local footprint of the country’s wines as the demand for sustainable products increases.

According to Shelly Fuller, WWF South Africa’s programme manager for the portfolio of sustainable fruit and wine projects, consumers and retailers worldwide are interested in sustainably farmed produce. This demand is being fast-tracked by legislation aimed at ensuring that importers source goods from countries that champion sustainable and regenerative farming practices.

“For example, the European Union (EU) recently announced an economic recovery package that includes a carbon tax on imports from countries that do not meet certain requirements regarding carbon emissions and sustainability,” says Fuller.

“This EU regulation, which comes into effect in 2023, is one example of the new trend of so-called ‘green protectionism’. With green protectionism, countries aim to guard their economies against imports by seeking strict sustainable guarantees from other nations wanting to export to these countries.”

About the WWF partnership

Here the partnership between the WWF and the South African wine industry – through the WWF Conservation Champions programme – will play an increasingly significant role. This unique wine initiative underscores the local industry’s commitment to conservation, the close relationship between wine producers and their natural environment, and the indigenous natural setting in which the country’s wines are made.

Some 45 Cape wine farms represent the WWF Conservation Champions. This initiative showcases the extraordinary measures local winegrowers have implemented to conserve the natural biodiversity on their farms.

According to Fuller, the ethos of conservation among the wineland communities was formally established in 2004. Sixteen years down the line, the WWF Conservation Champions can rightfully position the South African wine industry as a world leader in not only wine, but also in conservation and sustainability.

“The programme was initially known as the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI). The wine industry and the South African Botanical Society largely funded it back then,” she says.

“Following ten years of successful implementation producers in the wine community were faced with limited resources. In 2015, the WWF decided to restructure the programme. It now focuses on driving continuous improvement and recognising the environmental leaders in the industry, known as the Conservation Champions.

“When I joined the WWF in 2014, the dedication to conserving the winelands’ incredible natural habitat was truly inspiring. Thanks to the early pioneers of the BWI concept and Wines of South Africa, which markets the Cape’s wines internationally, the WWF Conservation Champions project is now a model example of the vital role agricultural land-owners play in conserving the environment.”

Conservation endeavours

Producers who are WWF Conservation Champions collectively own some 45 000ha of land. Of this land, 22 000ha is conserved as part of the world-famous Cape Floral Kingdom. This kingdom comprises fynbos and Karoo succulent plants.

The 45 members work closely with the WWF in their conservation endeavours. Consequently, they undertake annual assessments to ensure they meet the specifications required of a Conservation Champion. South Africa’s Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) certification underscores all champions’ credentials. These wineries have achieved 70% or more in their IPW audit.

“WWF Conservation Champions are spread across the Cape Winelands, from Constantia to Robertson, Stellenbosch to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley,” says Fuller. “Their reach showcases and protects the rich biodiversity of the winelands, including the Cape Floral Kingdom with over 9 000 indigenous plant species and myriad birds, mammals, insects and reptiles.

“The dazzling array of microclimates and terroirs are not only home to diverse fauna and flora, but is also why the Cape Winelands can produce such a diverse range of site-specific wines. The fact that South African wines are produced in this natural environment that is managed under stewardship of the WWF has to make an appealing case for buying Cape wines.

“With the international wine trade being more vigilant than ever in ensuring it sources wine from naturally sustainable origins of production, the WWF Conservation Champions are set to unleash the economic and financial proposition together with its conservation credentials.”

Water use and carbon emissions

Fuller says the WWF Conservation Champions has upped its game as a collaboration. In addition, it now includes aspects such as water conservation, decreasing carbon emissions and drives community upliftment along with the preservation of pristine natural habitat.

She also says the international wine trade aggressively seeks green credentials from suppliers, as well as the presence of the so-called green protectionism within South Africa’s export markets. That said, Conservation Champions have the potential to truly capture the imagination of the wine world – if a suitable amount of awareness of the Champions and the country’s conservation ethos is gained.

“By creating a greater awareness of the Conservation Champions and the WWF’s involvement in the Cape wine industry, South Africa has the potential to be a global leader in conservation and sustainability. This can translate into more support for and fascination with South African wines,” says Fuller. – Press release, WWF