Diemersdal, the Durbanville wine estate which has been under ownership of the Louw family for six generations, has become the first wine farm in the Durbanville wine region to achieve WWF Conservation Champion status. This unique wine initiative, managed by the World Wide Fund for Nature and unique to the Cape winelands, underscores the local wine industry’s commitment to conservation, the close relationship between wine farmers and their natural environment, and the indigenous natural setting where the country’s wines are made.
The WWF Conservation Champions, represented by 45 Cape wine farms, showcases the extraordinary measures local winegrowers have gone to protect and conserve the inimitable natural habitat situated in and around their farms.
Diemersdal received its official status as WWF Conservation Champion in July this year after numerous thorough audits by WWF field officers who manage this programme. Diemersdal’s emphatic conservation credentials include its preservation of a 16.8ha conservation area on one of the farms pristine hills on which a number of scarce renosterveld plant species are found. This conservation area spans the Dorsberg, the most northern hill range within the Tygerberg cluster. The vegetation type of the conservation area is Swartland Shale Renosterveld, currently the most threatened ecosystem in the country, having lost more than 90% of its original extent and for this reason bearing Critically Endangered Status.
Unlike true fynbos vegetation, Renosterveld typically has no Protea, Erica or Restio components and are associated with clay soils that are more nutrient rich. As a result, most of the vegetation on these fertile soil types has been transformed for agriculture and only tiny, isolated islands remain, such as the one on Diemersdal.
During the botanical scan done by officials of the WWF Conservation Champions programme, 38 species of flowering plants were recorded. The list is, however, still preliminary and it is likely that at least 200 species still occur in this area.
The most interesting find was a small population of endangered of plant species Oxalis strigose and Geissorhiza erosa.
Thys Louw, Diemersdal’s proprietor-winemaker, says that conservation has been an ethos shared by all six generations of Louws who have farmed there since 1885.
“I remember being a kid and my father taking me to that area which is today demarcated as a conservation area and showing me the indigenous shrubs and flowers and remarking how important it was to preserve this natural heritage for future generations,” he says. “We have always planted vineyards with care so to maintain an ecological balance, and by not irrigating our vines we further ensure our wine farming and conservation go hand-in-hand.”
Farmers who are WWF Conservation Champions own some 45 000ha of land between them, of which 22 000ha is conserved as a pristine part of the world-famous Cape Floral Kingdom comprising fynbos and Karoo succulent plants. The 45 members work closely with the WWF in their conservation endeavours and are subjected to annual assessments to ensure they meet the specifications required of a Conservation Champion. All Champions’ credentials are also underscored by South Africa’s Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) certification, with these wineries having achieved 70% of more in their IPW evaluation.
Shelly Fuller, WWF South Africa’s sustainable programme manager for fruit and wine, says the wine industry’s Conservation Champions are truly ground-breaking in their innovative ways of managing farming practices while proactively conserving the natural environment.
“With every visit our field officers find new approaches to environmental management practices shown by the wine farms,” she says. “This spirit of innovation and respect of their land is a truly unique feature of the Cape winelands and has the potential of positioning Brand South Africa as one of the leading wine countries in the world as far as sustainability and conservation is concerned.”
Louw says the WWF Conservation Champions programme underscores the South African wine industry’s unique sustainability credentials. “With sustainability being a paramount issue in the global wine world, the Cape finds itself at the forefront of conservation as well as sustainable wine production,” he says. “It is thus an excellent credential with which to further raise an awareness of our country’s wines.”