Care for the land, and the people

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by Richard Holmes

It’s often easy, relaxing with a great glass of bubbly in hand, to forget about all that went into crafting the wine in the bottle. The people that worked the vineyards. The soils that nurtured the vines. The ecosystem that surrounds the estate, and the village in which the winery makes its home.

Increasingly though, consumers are asking questions. Questions around how workers are cared for. What impact the winery has on the broader community. How the land is regenerated and restored with the passing of the seasons.

In the South African winelands, Villiera wine estate has become a pioneer in the realm of ethical and environmentally friendly viticulture, and was a worthy recipient of the 2016 Best Of Wine Tourism award for Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices.

Wild animals on the Villiera estate.  (Photo credit: crushmag-online.com)

This family-owned estate planted its first vines in 1983, and has gone on to become one of the best-loved wine brands in South Africa, particularly famous for its pioneering production of Méthode Cap Classique, the delicious South African sparkling wine produced the traditional way with a secondary fermentation in bottle.

Since those very first plantings, viticulturist Simon Grier has been passionate about pursuing environmentally friendly vineyard management. Insecticides have not been used on the farm for more than a decade, and a large flock of Peking ducks today keeps the vineyards from pests.

The Grier family is also cognisant of their role in the broader eco-system, and the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) scheme as well as the World Wildlife Fund’s Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI) have accredited the estate. All Villiera wines also carry the new Sustainability Seal issued by the South African Wine and Spirit Board.

In 2009 Villiera opened its 220-hectare Wildlife Sanctuary, which has proven to be both an ecological marvel and an eco-tourism draw card. The dams, wetlands and indigenous forests – over 100 000 indigenous trees have been planted in the Sanctuary – have proven a boon to local birdlife, while a host of antelope and other mammals have been reintroduced to the property. It’s a glimpse of what the lands here may have looked like hundreds of years ago, and the two-hour safari drives are a popular addition to the cellar’s tourism offering.

The cellar lights are kept burning thanks to a major solar energy project undertaken in 2010. More than 950-square-metres of photovoltaic panels were installed to provide for the farm’s energy requirements in all but the busiest times of year.

But for the team at Villiera, caring for the people is as important as conserving local ecosystems.

Villiera guesthouse (Credit: SafariNow)

For more than a decade Villiera has been a full member of the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) that works to improve the working conditions of employees within the agricultural industry.

In addition to ensuring fair wages and labour practices, the estate provides a fully staffed daycare centre for the young children of estate workers, along with an after-school facility to assist with homework and further studies. Assistance is also provided in the realms of food security, primary healthcare and skills developments.

For the team at Villiera it’s about doing the right thing, for the right reasons. There may be the marketing cachet of an accreditation here, or a bottle-sticker there, but ultimately it comes down to farming ethically and treating workers well. With a glass of chilled Villiera Monro Brut in hand, I’ll say cheers to that.

www.villiera.com