Going “Back” – Carbon Neutral winemaking at Backsberg

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At my recent trip to South Africa, I visited the first winery I have heard of who profile themselves as “carbon neutral.” Even with the certification to prove it. Not organic, not biodynamic, but “carbon neutral.” The medium-sized family winery Backsberg on the slopes of the Simonsberg mountain near Paarl has analyzed all their processes, from growing to winemaking to sales and shipping to gauge their impact on global warming. “In 2006 we decided to look at what we could do to reverse the environmental clock,” said proprietor Michael Back. 

Tree plantings are used to offset the excess carbon used, but the main idea is still to reduce the carbon footprint itself. Which I find sound thinking – the trading of carbon credits or planting of trees to excuse fossil fuel usage is not a long-term solution in my view. Backsberg uses biofuels, reviews their packaging, shipping and electricity usage, as well as looking at every fuel expenditure including the international travel of their sales staff. I’m sure Michael drives his team nuts at times, but hey, he has a clear goal and he is sticking to it. Backsberg is even developing their own local production of bio-diesel!

A few of the vineyards are farmed organically, but Michael Back says they are not overall organic because he looks more at global sustainability, rather than only the local environmental impact which is the focus for organic farming. On this I agree with him – organic farming which doesn’t take into account how many times you run a tractor to spray the vines, or which is sold in heavyweight bottles, is missing a key component of why many consumers look to organics. For the coming vintages, even the prestige wines will be in light-weight bottles (to the chagrin of the marketing team lead by Simon, but his father is unmovable on this).

Like a handful of other South African wineries, Backsberg is a champion of the Biodiversity  & Wine Initiative and has set aside more than 10 percent of their land holdings to protect the particular (and beautiful) flora of the Cape called “fynbos”. (The author takes personal, nerdy satisfaction in knowing that fynbos requires the presence of an Erica – the latin name for the heathers found all over the Cape.) At the beautiful back of the vineyards, Simon Back (Michael’s son, marketing manager and social media manager at Backsberg) told us that the removal of “alien” species of trees such as the Australian bluegums has made the precious water flow in their streams again. Because of the scarcity of water in South Africa, programs to get water back into the streams is important for the vineyards and the environment. As a bonus, showing the success of the biodiversity initiative, there had been new sightings of leopards on the mountainside!

PS Backsberg has a whole range of wines, from low to premium price ranges. I was particularly impressed at the quality of the PET-bottlings, which are otherwise a poorly treated category. These were “real” wines in very pretty packaging for quite an attractive price.

//In Sweden, Backsberg is represented by the importer Klunk, and a selection of their wines are available through Systembolaget..//

Av: Erica Landin

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