We chat with a cellar each month about their business, what makes them lie awake at night and what gives them hope “Being more sustainable requires an attitude of sometimes admitting that you may have been wrong in the past and being willing to improve. We are going to make mistakes along our sustainability journey, but the intention will always be to do good,” says Paul Clüver Jnr, MD of Paul Clüver Wines.
1. Tell us more about Paul Clüver Wines?
Paul Clüver Wines is a fourth-generation family business that was established in 1896. The farm lies in the cool climate Elgin Valley, surrounded by South Africa’s first biosphere reserve, the UNESCO-accredited Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. We have 75 hectares under wine grape vineyards, but also farm with apples and pears and have a Hereford Stud and various tourist activities.
We view ourselves as a pioneering family specialising in producing world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Elgin appellation and dedicated to continuous improvement. As such, our typical consumers are lovers of elegant, classical, cool climate wines – especially our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – and those who enjoy a Sauvignon Blanc with rounder fuller mouth feel, with less grass, capsicum and more tropical notes.
Our Seven Flags Range is for the discerning collector, our Estate Range is for the romantic, the foody, the discerning wine drinker and for those looking to make any occasion more memorable. Finally, our Village range is for the consumer who is passionate about drinking wine daily, and includes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling. We export 40% of our wines and sell 60% locally.
2. Sustainability is a big driving force in your business. What does “sustainability” mean to you, and how do you make it a part of your daily activities?
We focus on producing world-class fruit and wines that reflect the uniqueness of the Elgin valley, but more specifically of De Rust Estate, while being mindful of the effect our actions have on both on the environment and on our community. We live out our sustainability principles through various social and environmental initiatives, as well as sustainable water management practices and by addressing climate change.
Most of Paul Clüver’s farm workers live in De Rust Village on the farm, which has a large community space in the centre of the village, including a community hall and a church. The village is also at the forefront of the Thandi project, one of the first black economic empowerment initiatives in South Africa, enabling workers to own their own orchards. More than 60 years ago Gertrude Clüver also established a farm school on the estate, which with support from the local community has grown from only 23 learners to more than 1 000 today. De Rust Futura Academy is now a formal Western Cape Department of Education School, which includes an ECD crèche, Grade R to 12 and aftercare centre where learners receive daily meals. The school has a strong agricultural focus, including establishing, maintaining and selling fresh produce.
We have been using solar panels since 2015 to reduce our grid electricity consumption and were one of the first farms in South Africa to pilot Integrated Pest Management, which includes, among others, managing insects without pesticides where possible. Around 60 of the 2 400 ha farm is under conservation, and apart from the estate being part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, we have been involved in various conservation initiatives, including being a WWF Conservation Champion since 2008. We have planted more than 800 endemic trees, are actively involved in removing invasive alien plants and have created ecological corridors that run between the farm and the mountain.
Our farming practices focus on actively conserving the entire water catchment area, including removing alien vegetation, mulching with chipped aliens to reduce evaporation and improve soil quality, using nets to reduce evaporation, reduce sunburn and promote colour development, irrigating at night and only planting vines and fruit trees most suited to the climate and soil. We also make use of the latest technology to improve our irrigation scheduling, including using weather station data to predict and manage risks, monitoring soil moisture with probes and using drones for precision agriculture and spatial mapping. We also use Fruitlook (www.fruitlook.co.za), an online tool that helps producers understand how their crops respond as part of a bigger water cycle in their region.
Apart from managing our water resources efficiently to buffer our crops from climate change, we are also concerned with extreme weather events, such as extreme heat and a lack of cold units in winter. We foresee that we will probably have to put up more nets to prevent sunburn and hail damage going forward. We are 100% invested in regenerative agriculture and believe that looking at soil as a growth medium, and following a more holistic approach, will ensure a healthy ecosystem that can buffer us against the worst effects of climate change. The healthier the system, the better it will be able to absorb extreme weather events.
I think being more sustainable requires an attitude of sometimes admitting that you may have been wrong in the past and being willing to improve. We are going to make mistakes along our sustainability journey, but the intention will always be to do good.
3. How have you experienced the 2022 season so far?
We have yet to start harvesting within the next two weeks; however thus far it promises to be an exceptional wine grape crop.
4. Any exciting plans under way?
We are constantly planting vineyards with the focus on better clones and vineyard practices. In the last couple of years our focus has been to solely on using the Guyot system.
5. Your message to other wineries on the way forward?
Focus on what you good at; don’t try and be something for everyone.