My head was spinning from all the technical details I had tried to take in over a week of travelling from farm to farm. The area looked pretty arid, so my expectations were low. I wanted to finish off my research and get home.
When forth burst a most energetic farmer, Michelle du Preez, who together with her husband Roelf and winemaker Marinus Potgieter, run this farm with gusto. Talk about a boerevrou wat haar man kan staan! Managing a string of kids in between – it was school holidays after all – I sensed the importance of family. I related to her answer to my question, why did you go organic?
‘We had farmed 80%+ organically all our life, so certification was easy. We decided to be certified even before we started producing our own wines in 2002, because we are a 7th generation family farm and wanted another 7 generations to farm on fertile healthy soil.’
Family health comes first
Sustainable farming is a worldwide concern among people who care about the health of their families and the environment. The solution? Organic farming. Organic crops are grown in harmony with nature. Strict international regulations prohibit the use of chemical products such as pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, weed killers, etc.
‘We live in an arid area – ideal for organic farming and hence organic wine production. Our soil was naturally rich and well balanced due to our farming methods – so much more reason to change to full certified farming. We did trials in the late 1990’s and realised we were on the right track, except that information and products were hard to come by to support this decision. So we followed the trial and error route and worked out details by ourselves. From the start we could see the benefits to the soil.
In 1999, we applied for international certification and received full organic status from SGS in 2002.â€ Although SGS is accepted by most countries, Bon Cap later added Lacon certification too for Canada, Hong Kong and the States.
The last organic wine farm we visited was Bon Cap near Robertson – the largest privately owned organic winery in the country.
Penguin guano feeds the soil
How do they fertilise their soil? As they cannot use chicken manure from battery hatcheries, Bon Cap goes to great trouble and expense to obtain natural fertilizers, such as penguin guano. While the stark, leafless vines on other farms make winter-time look dull, the Bon Cap vineyards are luscious and green with patches of lupine in flower, ranging from yellows to purples.
Cover crops, like lupine and lucerne, are planted between the vines to benefit the soil and the local wildlife! To decrease soil compaction Bon Cap uses the Quad Squad 4-wheel motorbike instead of heavy tractors between vine rows. The prevention of soil compaction and the use of cover crops have a tremendous effect on the aeration of the soil, the compost component of the soil and the soil’s ability to retain moisture.
The whole farm is certified organic. There are 60 ha of vineyards, but in total there are almost 300 ha, including figs, olives, paddocks, and natural vegetation. Even thought not much has changed in their methods, the heightened fertility of the soil is the most noticeable improvement. This has helped them to survive the dry summer months much more easily than the neighbours, as the soil holds the water better. Root structures are stronger and better able to find deeper water sources.
Stronger vines are pest resistant
Pests and diseases are not a problem in a healthy environment with little humidity and therefore also minimal disease. As the vines are naturally stronger, they are also more pest resistant. Microbial life is managed by green, green and more green pastures in the vineyards – a natural way of composting within the vineyards.
‘If you can’t push your hand into the soil, it is not healthy,’ says Michelle, ‘good way to determine the fertility and microbial life in your soil.’
‘if you scratch the surface, you need to see life.’
Not only the family benefit from living in a healthy environment, farm workers thrive on an organic farm too. Roelf is a handson farmer and works with his staff, training in natural methods. Workers are happy in a healthy environment, their children breathe clean air. Due to the increase in their exports they could build a bigger crèche facility for the kids. They get cooked meals every day and their basic needs and development are looked after. Parents collect their kids after work, fed, bathed and homework done.
Awards abound double gold
How do they rate their wines?
‘The best award any winery can get is an empty winery with wines sold at the right price. We are fortunate to be in this position, with exports to 14 countries, so the wines speak for themselves. Good wines at the right price sell because it’s good. If it’s organic it’s just an add on value. Quality comes first.’
Bon Cap have received prestigious rewards, like a double gold at the Michelangelo International Wine Awards and a Gold at Biofach. This year their Syrah won the Good Housekeeping Award for the Best Organic Wine in England and their Bon Cap Cape Blend received a 4* from Platter.
Good news is that Bon Cap wines are Vegan; no egg white or gelatine fining is used, although it’s not certified and labelled as such.
The bad news is that 85 – 90% of their delicious wines are exported, so once again the more conscious local wine drinker is losing out. However, some supermarkets, wine shops and restaurants do carry their products. And you can order through their website, or pay them a visit. Better still, go and visit and stay over at their Weltevrede Guest Farm and dine at the Bon Rouge Bistro for the best of boerekos and warm hospitality.