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Young wine farm ecowarrior shows you how to think before you drink

Our Conservation Champions extension officer, Dwayne Brecht, knows that not all bottles of wine are equal when it comes to taking care of the environment. Dwayne studied applied geology and by postgraduate studies had moved over to environmental management and water sciences. Here he shares the inside scoop on asking the right questions to find out what’s gone into each glass, and sheds light on what Conservation Champion wine farms are doing differently.

Photograph of the author in front of a backdrop showing a beautiful landscape and vineyards
© Shelly Fuller / WWF South Africa
A portrait of WWF's Conservation Champions extension officer, Dwayne Brecht

As a young person working with wine farms to set up environmental management plans, I have visited more than 40 farms across the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) and would like to encourage others in my generation to become more aware of each glass’s impact on nature. 

For many young South Africans, sipping their favourite red or white from the country’s amazing wine farms is a rite of passage but drinking responsibly isn’t just about not binge-drinking or driving drunk! It’s also about choosing conservation-friendly wines. That is why, based on a set of criteria related to be best environmental practice, WWF works with farms it recognises as being Conservation Champions because of how they’re producing their wine – and taking care of the unique land and biodiversity in the unique biome of the CFR.  

I would invite people of my generation to look out for the sugarbird logo and buy wine from these environmentally conscious farms when you’re stocking up or planning a wine tasting experience.  

As a young person making the right choices, you can be part of the solution. Here are some questions you could explore when you choose your wine (every glass of wine has a story behind it):

  1. Do the farmers on that farm really care? There’s a perception that farmers don’t care about the environment. But for me, seeing their commitment has been a breath of fresh air. They are moving away from conventional methods that don’t consider the natural vegetation, and it gives me such hope! Many also include social transformation and offer skills development and education to their farmworkers and their children. 

  1. Have they cleared invasive aliens? Water-sucking alien vegetation, such as Port Jackson and pine trees, is a real threat to the environment, but for a farmer, it can take a big chunk out of operational costs – with no immediate return on investment – to clear it away. I take my hat off to those who comply with the law by doing it for the sake of the environment. Remember that choosing wine farms that do this is the ethical choice. 

  1. Is the farm using green energy? Energy reduction and green energy use are the mark of a future-minded farm. Going off the grid implies a higher initial outlay but less dependence on fossil fuels makes a wine farm more sustainable. Another route we advocate for is measuring your carbon footprint on an annual basis and setting a goal to reduce your dependency on climate-impacting fossil fuels. 

  1. Is the farm using regenerative farming practices? Moving away from conventional methods to embrace things like cover crops is a forward-thinking way to farm. In case you do not know, cover crops slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds and help control pests and disease.  

  1. What is the farm doing to protect biodiversity? Many wine farms are within the fynbos biome which is part of the Cape Floristic Region. This is home to many species not seen anywhere else in the world and which need to be protected. We support them to take on restoration projects where land has been degraded, and some are establishing natural fynbos corridors where pollinators can get food and natural predators (that will attack pests that damage crops) thrive. Others are establishing indigenous nurseries that propagate fynbos to increase biodiversity on the farm.

A low-angle shot of cover crops in between vines on the Vondeling wine farm
© Greg Nicholson
Cover crops slow erosion, improve soil health, and enhance water availability.

Spread the word among your friends and encourage other budding wine lovers to support the farms that are taking conservation seriously. Choosing this wine shows that you’re supporting the symbiotic relationship that the Cape sugarbird and protea logo represents. The future is in your hands! 

A wine bottle showcasing the Conservation Champions iconic logo of the Cape sugarbird on a protea
© WWF South Africa
A wine bottle showcasing the Conservation Champions iconic logo of the Cape sugarbird on a protea
Dwayne Brecht Photo
Dwayne Brecht, WWF Conservations Champions Extension Officer

Dwayne Brecht is passionate about protecting our environment through our lifestyle choices

Explore more

Find the champion wine farms of the Western Cape, and download the app for fun eco activities you can do in the Cape winelands.