Waterford Estate: A Regenerative Wine Wonderland
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As my girlfriend, Taryn, and I set foot on the picturesque Waterford Estate, nestled within the breathtaking Blaauwklippen Valley of Stellenbosch, South Africa, We were immediately struck by the beauty that surrounded us. The estate sprawls over 120 hectares, with 50 hectares dedicated to vineyards and the remaining 65 hectares meticulously preserved to nurture the natural flora and fauna of the Helderberg region. This is not just a vineyard; it is a sanctuary for both wine lovers and nature enthusiasts, and we were about to embark on a journey that would reveal the magic of Waterford Estate.
A Haven for Biodiversity
Waterford Estate’s commitment to sustainability is evident in every aspect of their operation. They farm only half of their land to protect the natural vegetation and animal life of the region. Their biodiversity initiatives are impressive, with cover crops between vineyard rows that invite indigenous flora and fauna. This not only enhances the soil but also attracts insects that create a harmonious ecosystem.
Waterford Estate is also dedicated to preserving the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of the most diverse genomes of plants in the world, housing over 9000 species of plants. They work with the World Wildlife Fund to remove alien species of trees from their estate and replace them with indigenous plantings, contributing to the support of the local ecosystem.
Cattle as Nature’s Lawnmowers
One of the most innovative and endearing practices at Waterford Estate is the use of Dexter cows to maintain their cover crops. These gentle lawnmowers graze on the expansive fields, trimming the cover crops and leaving behind their own special brand of compost. This not only keeps the estate’s landscapes pristine but also enriches the soil and enhances its microbial life.
As someone who grew up on a farm that raised cattle, this practice held a special place in my heart. It was a nostalgic reminder of my childhood, where I would often roam the fields with my Oupa (Afrikaans for Grandfather) and observe the cattle. I was delighted to learn that the herd of Dexter cows was expanding, with five out of the six cows expecting calves.
What struck a chord with me was the estate’s dedication to preserving not just their vineyards but also the quality of the grapes they produce. Waterford Estate is taking remarkable steps to ensure a virus-free vineyard. They’ve been removing all materials infected with the leaf roll virus, a threat that can drastically impact grape quality and spread rapidly. While there are conventional methods involving pesticides and herbicides, the estate’s choice to uproot infected vines and start anew is a testament to their commitment to sustainable, pesticide-free practices.
A Commitment to Water and Environmental Stewardship
Waterford Estate’s water capture system reclaims all water used in the tasting room, cellar, and estate. The purified water is then repurposed for gardening and vine irrigation, ensuring that no harmful chemicals are used. Their drip irrigation system introduces natural fungi to protect the vine’s root system, reducing the need for synthetic pesticides.
Social Responsibility and Education
Waterford Estate’s commitment to sustainability extends beyond their environmentally conscious practices; it is deeply ingrained in their values and extends to their employees and the local community. Their dedication to uplifting the lives of their staff was apparent in the warm and friendly demeanor of every employee I encountered during my visit.
The estate goes beyond the norm by offering permanent employment to their staff, fostering a strong team ethos. Additionally, they collaborate with the Anna Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the future generations of South Africa, providing after-school education services to the kids of the staff. This social responsibility and commitment to their employees and the broader community truly set Waterford Estate apart, and it was heartwarming to witness the positive impact of these practices during my visit.
Certificates of Excellence
Waterford Estate’s dedication to environmental conservation has earned them the Conservation Champions Award from the World Wildlife Fund. Their Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) certification ensures that their grape production and wine production are undertaken in an environmentally responsible manner.
Mark Le Roux: A Winemaker Extraordinaire
Mark Le Roux, the Cellarmaster at Waterford Estate, is a name that’s synonymous with excellence in the world of winemaking. His unpretentious and authentic approach to crafting wines has earned him accolades and recognition, including the title of South Africa’s Young Winemaker of The Year in 2017. Mark believes in the power of terroir, and he shared, “For me, the best interpretation of terroir is shown through wines that aren’t covered by winemaking. Winemaking should merely be a catalyst, involved, but not to interfere or alter the wine of origin.”
A Wine Adventure Awaits: The Porcupine Trail Wine Walk
The Porcupine Trail Wine Walk is a unique experience offered by Waterford Estate. It’s more than just a wine tasting adventure; it’s an opportunity to immerse oneself in the beauty of the South African landscape, indigenous flora, and the art of winemaking.
This three-hour-long trail offers a chance to explore the estate’s diverse species up close. It winds through the vineyard and fynbos, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. The guided wine tasting along the Pecan Stream river, nestled in the lush forest, is a moment of pure bliss. The trail’s elevation gain of 150m during the walk is well worth the reward of a selection of three exquisite wines and a light lunch.
The grand finale of the Porcupine Trail Wine Walk is the Wine & Chocolate Pairing, a delightful indulgence for the senses. The fusion of handcrafted chocolates and meticulously crafted wines creates flavors that linger on the palate, leaving guests with an unforgettable taste of South Africa’s artistry.
Uncover the Essence of Waterford with the Wine Drive Safari Experience
My highlight of the entire experience at Waterford Estate was the Wine Drive Safari. This journey through the 120-hectare estate immersed me in the world of wine, allowing me to appreciate the connection between nature, wine, and the senses.
As we embarked on a guided tour through the estate, I marveled at the vine-covered slopes and the grandeur of the surrounding landscapes. The heart of the experience lay in wine tastings amidst the vineyards, where each sip was a testament to the terroir, climate, and craftsmanship that go into every bottle.
What made this experience even more exceptional was the fact that the Wine Drive Safari is conducted in an old Land Rover Defender. This detail resonated with me deeply, as I first learnt how to drive in my Dad’s Land Rover, on our farm, surrounded by cattle.
We owe a special thanks to Jeremy, Waterford’s Public Relations and Social Media Manager, who personally gave us the tour of the wine cellar, introduced us to Mark the Cellarmaster, and guided us on the game drive. His knowledge and passion for the wine estate and its regenerative practices were truly inspiring, and a testament to the dedication of the people working at Waterford Estate.
Our visit to Waterford Estate was an extraordinary adventure that celebrated the delicate balance between preserving nature, viticulture, winemaking, and the beauty of the South African landscape. It’s a destination where sustainability and the love for wine converge, leaving visitors with a profound appreciation for the artistry of nature and the pursuit of excellence in winemaking.
This Column in the Sustainable Travel series is by Liam Marais. Each Week ESG News offers readers and experts a chance to share experience and insight on sustainable travel. Email here if you are interested in submitting an article [email protected]