ERC has been involved in a UNITAR funded study looking at “Adaptation of Deciduous Fruit Farmers in the Western Cape to climate change” with a focus on Klein Constantia as a case study.
This farm was chosen in part due to the fact that it is a traditionally white wine producing region. With climate change, white wines are likely to suffer more than reds, as the threshold for white wine production is already close to its range limit. In contrast, South African varietals such as pinotage, are favourable for consideration under a warmer climate.
The study at Klein Constantia wine estate focused largely on capacity building of two groupings of people, viz. the vineyard workers and the administrative/management staff. A series of 6 focus group discussion were conducted and were centred on energy, energy efficiency and climate change, and resulted in the development of a Strategy Plan.
As a follow on from this, ERC has recently extended the reach of this study by organising a workshop for wine farmers, their industry role players as well as researchers in the field. The aim of the workshop was for the participants to engage with one another and to share ideas related to behavioural changes, environment and climate change as well as energy efficiency. The workshop commenced with a report back on the Klein Constantia study, including a very interesting recent Masters thesis (not part of the UNITAR study, but closely aligned) presentation on renewable energy options for wine farms. The presentation of these studies as well as questions posed to the group, resulted in a stimulating and extremely worthwhile morning of debates, comparing of notes, idea-sharing and suggestions for a way forward.
An important point coming out of the discussions is how crucial water availability is to the long term existence of the wine industry. Vines are adaptable to water availability, but do require irrigation. Closely aligned to this is the need for better water recycling and more efficient reuse of effluent water. Focus should be on efficient water resource use, coupled with planting of the right cultivars and with a drip irrigation system.
Mention was also made of the increasing trend towards mechanisation on farms. This comes with a trade-off, since mechanisation comes with amplified fuel use. It also comes with a development cost, since it reduces the employment opportunities for unskilled labour.
There are a number of barriers to mitigation and adaptation efforts that were identified. Some of these include slow behavioural change in terms of getting people to buy in to energy efficiency. Coupled to this is a lack of funding as well as information on energy efficient technologies available. The German government has played a notable role in terms of funding of efforts that are currently underway in South Africa e.g. at Delheim wine farm. There is also a need for cheaper technologies, and for Eskom to push back into the grid. The latter is common in Australia and elsewhere in the world, and needs to be fast-tracked in South Africa. The costs of mechanisation create a further barrier.
Various research ideas emerged from the discussions. One suggestion is that research be conducted on varietals which are very adaptable as well as being suited to a changing climate. This comes with the challenge of acceptance of the wine style by the consumer market. Shifting away from vine planting of popularly consumed wines, under a different climate regime, will not be enough. The change would need to be marketable and with a willing consumer as an end point!
Another suggestion was that there needs to be more capacity building at a farm worker level, both in terms of buy-in and in terms of achieving long term behavioural change.
One of the key challenges, and one which received quite a bit of support from participants, is the need for a report on Sustainable Best Practice, to be used as a guideline tool for best sustainable wine practices. This is a crucial area of funding support that would need to be sought, as its contribution to the wine industry would be immeasurable.