Earth Day and a reflective walk
It’s #EarthDay today .
What a day to be alive
Our son, James and I took a walk around the farm yesterday, I could see and feel something was troubling him and I think he was needing to talk a few things through. As the walk progressed, we started chatting about the history of the farm, what we did 16 years ago, and why we aren’t doing certain things anymore, and I had a long time to reflect on where we have come from.
And where we are going.
At the end of the excursion, James and I talked about how the only constant seems to be change. And I had a chance to go further down the rabbit hole myself and reflect on my last 16 years here at Haut Espoir. And because its Earth day today, I thought I would share my reflections.
The family farm was purchased and developed from a pine and blue gum forest on the steep slopes of Scherpheuwelberg, in the Franschhoek wine valley in South Africa in 1999. Alien vegetation was removed, the top half of the land was replanted with 7000 indigenous protea seedlings and we reseeded ericas and restios to encourage return of natural species and boost bio diversity. Vineyards of noble reds were planted on the bottom portion of the farm, and a shed, houses and winery were built up. 2004 was our first year in the wine game.
A lot has changed since then. We had High Hopes ( a literal translation of Haut Espoir). The future was very clearly laid out in front of us, business plans were set in motion, we were developing the farm from scratch, and a young and motivated team to take our brand in to the stratosphere was developing. And we had all the unbounded passion in the world to grow as a brand, making distinctive, handcrafted wines in harmony with nature.
Heres a little pic after a fire showing where the farm is situated :
Things changed, the team changed , as did our focus on goals. Farming the way we were, and selling the message of being in harmony with nature was essentially green washing, something I have a fond disregard for. And yet we fell into the trap of doing exactly that. Planting proteas and being keen participants with IPW and Biodiveristy and wine initiative were not enough. In 2010 we adopted Bio Dynamic principles. Economic suicide, but it was done for long term sustainability and to really change what we, as custodians of this land, were witnessing. Species decline. Our farming practices and putting chemicals and toxins and poisons into our environment was not working out. Snake and frog species were in decline, clear markers that our biodiversity was not at optimal levels. We went from an already low base of farming 8 tons per hectare in 2009, to farming 0.5 tons per hectare in 2011. ( this has climbed back up to about 3 Tons per hectare now ) Not really sound financial farming advice but it has changed our lives for the better.
Listening to the doyen of Bio Dynamic wine farming in SA, Johan Reyneke ( I clearly remember our chats over a decade ago about our conversion process and he has been an inspiration in my journey ) and Rosa Kruger debate the topics of climate change, natural and regenerative farming and a kinder softer approach to Mother Earth, has also boosted my will to write all this down. On the walk, seeing life in the vines, indigenous cover crops taking hold, and soil erosion almost a thing a of the past, hardly any alien species of trees left, I was filled with a sense of pride, that we are doing somethings right.
We made this massive change as we felt this was what the planet needed and we as a brand wanted to do no more harm to our environment through our farming practices.
Initially it hurt a lot, the change was hard. But it was so worth it in the long run, ten years later, there is abundant biodiversity back on the farm, species I haven’t seen in years are returning.
Erica and I shared a bottle of our maiden vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 last night. (The wine as amazing, still so fresh, I will send a tasting note to that sometime soon)
The future is not laid out in stone. Things will change, and our ability to survive as a species will be tested. However, to have the space and the ability to reflect on the past, note what worked, what didn’t work, and use the time to reflect on the past to gain a conscious perspective on what is coming next, is what I am eternally grateful for.
As I so often hear, its always darkest before the dawn. And this reminds me of words I saw down at our Franschhoek Hugenot memorial, Post tenebras lux. After darkness there is light.