Water, wine and wildlife in Constantia valley

Floricus Beukes has been a viticulturist at Groot Constantia for seven years.

It’s harvest time in the Constantia valley and Groot Constantia is celebrating its 333rd year of making wine.

Viticulturist Floricus Beukes described how the estate has become a model for sustainability and described steps taken over the past seven years which led to it becoming a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) South Africa Conservation Champion.

There are 38 farms that qualify for this programme, which was initiated in 2004 and was originally called the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI).

Over the subsequent decade, the BWI team worked with over 250 landowners and cellars to set up their environmental management plans and put systems in place to meet market requirements through the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) certification scheme. By 2015, over 90% of the South African wine industry was able to certify their wine as being environmentally friendly through the BWI and IPW partnership.

With limited resources, the programme then restructured to focus exclusively on working with and supporting the industry leaders – WWF’s Conservation Champions.

Mr Beukes says the estate is not biodynamic or organic but uses ladybirds to eat mealybugs and the previous estate manager stopped spraying chemicals in the vineyards.

They do use a herbicide for spot spraying but Mr Beukes says they will reconsider this because it uses too much water.

“It’s all about keeping something for future generations, so that there are wine farms here
in the future, and it all comes down to soil, fire and water,” he says.

And with 13.4 litres of water used to make one litre of wine, Groot Constantia has cut its usage to 6.43 litres. “No more hoses, reducing rinsing and cleaning the cellar floor and yet without compromising the wine,” says Mr Beukes.

He says the mountain helps
as the combination of granite
and sandstone acts like a sponge, collecting moisture, and when full, the water comes running
out.

Normally at this time of year the dams are overflowing but
not this year. In the past they irrigated the vineyards for about 12 hours a day but have cut this by half.

On wildlife, baboons continue to be a problem for the farm, costing millions to keep them in their habitat and where they can find plenty of food.

But it’s easy pickings at the estate’s restaurants and baby baboons play in the vineyards, damaging new shoots – next year’s’ crop – and they also damage the thatch.

With buzzards it has been trial and error. Tall poles were installed for them to perch on but those were found to be too thick for their claws and have since been changed. Buzzards
are important as they catch
moles.

Other birdlife include Egyptian geese, of which there are too many, and owls for which nine owl boxes have been installed. The estate has one resident lynx, caracal, which is not enough for the 150 hectare estate.

Earlier this month, the Groot Constantia board decided to symbolically honour the voiceless and often faceless wine workers over the centuries by making them the collective recipient of the 1659 medal, “Because without them the wine industry could never have flourished,” said Groot Constantia chairperson, Dr Ernest Messina, at the annual Wine Harvest Commemorative Event on
Friday February 2. T

his medal has been awarded to significant role-players in the industry since 1974.