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Bon Cap, South Africa – Michelle du Preez

February 2, 2012

Why do you do what you do?

We have been farming organically, although not certified, for years.  In the late 1990s we decided to certify the whole farm under international standards.  We believe it is the right thing to do and we have been farming on similar base for years prior to certifying.

Why do you choose to do it the way you do?

We think it is very important to find a farming method that is sustainable for us as farmers and producers as long as we can tie these methods to international standards.  We live in a very dry and arid region in South Africa called Eilandia outside of Robertson.  Our annual rainfall is only 140mm which is very beneficial for organic farming methods.  With dry (non humid conditions) we have fewer problems with diseases and infections. Having said this we have to irrigate almost right through the year due to the very low rainfall.  This is also beneficial to the soil as the excess amounts of water do not wash out our soils (that also leads to compaction of the soils). Our soil is well drained and the structure and composition of the soils are bettered by means of natural vegetation / cover crops and the use of Alfalfa / Lucern or Lupine which is leads to high volumes of Nitrogen compositions in our soils, but also assists us with the soil structure.  A lot of natural composting occurs within the vineyards due to the use of rotating cover crops.

What obstacles have you overcome?

Very limited information and guidance was available at first when we decided to change to organically certified production and farming.  Due to the fact that we export to 14 countries we have to comply with a lot of international legalities to each of these countries.  You might be aware of the very strict governing of organic produce not only to Europe but also Japan, Canada and the USA and we have to ensure that we follow international guidelines in line with each one of these countries own laws as well.  This also leads to a lot of additional certifications and paperwork with regards to label approvals and export paperwork.

We do not think it is only about the soil and the plants – it is how we manage electricity, cooling, soil compaction etc.  We started with night harvesting so that the grapes come in cooler into the winery, this puts less pressure on our electricity use.  We painted the wineries roof white; maybe it is not that lovely to look at but the effect inside was amazing with regards to temperature control.  We have just added solar geysers to all our labor cottages using the daylight we have to secure warm water for the households without loading our electricity usage.

What disasters have you survived?

In 2006 we had a hail storm on the farm and we lost a crop from about 14ha of vines.  This is not due to our farming practices and there is no way you can plan ahead or prevent this disaster.  2009 we had some severe floods in our region just prior to harvest that put a lot of strain on the vines.  Not only did we have to put a lot of hand labor in during this period, but we had a lot of water damage to vineyards, roads, electricity etc.  I think our biggest fear is that of fires in our vineyards due to the high amount of dry grass / cover crops / mulching in our vineyards during the summer season that could easily lead to big fires.  We lost 1ha of vineyards 2 years ago due to fires.  Our labors are not allowed to smoke in the vineyards and everyone is very alert for fires.

Are you happy with your work?

We believe in doing what you want to do and not what you have to do – so yes we are happy with our farm, the soil is healthy, so are the vineyards.  Our wines are good and sales are also very good.  But I think a lot of the sales are price, value and quality related.  The wine must be good – the fact that the product is certified as organic must be an add-on to the consumer.

Is it worth the effort?

This is not an effort – it is a life style, and yes it is!




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