Sustainability to leave mark on wine

Posted on 05 November 2008

There is a unique opportunity in South Africa this week for the wine industry to engage with the conservation community and put sustainability on the global wine agenda.
Cape Town, South Africa: There is a unique opportunity in South Africa this week for the wine industry to engage with the conservation community and put sustainability on the global wine agenda.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) general assembly, being held in Cape Town from 3-7 November, gives representatives from the business, environmental and social sectors from over 60 countries a chance to discuss the close links between people, forests and business around the world.

One of the key issues will be cork oak landscapes, which face a major threat from the growing use of plastic and metal substitutes for cork stoppers in wine bottles, cork’s main market. Globally 15 billion cork stoppers are manufactured every year to seal wine bottles and the role of cork and wine in promoting sustainable use of forests will provide important guidelines to the forestry sector.

Cork is the bark of the cork oak tree, growing naturally in the West Mediterranean Basin and designated as a global priority species by WWF in urgent need for conservation. The cork industry worldwide is worth approximately €1.5 billion.

“Cork for wine bottle stoppers accounts for almost 70% of the total value of the cork market,” said Thérèse Brinkcate, Ecosystems Partnership Manager for WWF-South Africa. “Hence the vital role played by the wine industry in maintaining the economic value of cork and the cork oak landscapes.

“The increase in the market share of alternative wine stoppers, specifically plastic stoppers and screw tops, could reduce the economic value of cork lands therefore leading to their conversion for other uses, abandonment, degradation, and finally loss of one of the most valuable examples of a human–nature balanced system.”

Through its cork oak landscapes programme WWF uses FSC certification as a market-based tool to drive best management practices on the ground while ensuring sustainable cork markets through the production and trade chain, from the forest to the wine bottle.

WWF considers that FSC certification is the best tool to ensure responsible management of cork oak forests, and therefore it is working with its partners on promoting FSC certification among the cork industry, wine industry, land owners and forest managers.

Leading wineries and retailers have already publicly demonstrated their commitment to cork and wine bottles sealed with FSC cork are already available in the market.

South Africa has become the world's eighth largest producer of wine, contributing 3.5% of the global wine production. Ninety per cent of South Africa’s wine is produced in the Cape Floral Kingdom (CFK). This is where an initiative called “the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative” (BWI) takes place.

“Since 2005 WWF has been pioneering this Initiative which is a collaboration between the South African wine industry and conservation institutions [The Botanical Society of South Africa, and The Green Trust] aiming at minimizing the further loss of threatened natural habitat and contributing to sustainable wine production through the adoption of biodiversity guidelines by the South African wine industry,” said Brinkcate.

In September 2008 the BWI reached a major milestone with the area under conservation (over 104,000ha) now equal to the area of planted vineyard in the Cape Winelands. This conservation area has been set aside by 13 champions, who are exemplary producers achieving distinction in their conservation efforts, nine producer cellars and 107 members.

“At a time of global ecological credit crunch, this event will provide a real opportunity to leverage South African wine producers and retailers to further improve their environmental sustainability by committing to using FSC cork stoppers, encouraging the cork sector to increase the supply of FSC certified cork, leading the way for the wine industry worldwide,” said Brinckate.

Leading wineries choose cork