What with it being Earth Day I thought it may be interesting to review four terrific South African wines that happen to be certified sustainable, but then perhaps look a little deeper into what they are doing to maintain this certification.

Introducing guidelines on sustainability as early as 1998, over 95% of South Africa’s growers and cellars follow the constantly improving guidelines, with independent auditors auditing both the farms and cellars. If the farms pass this rigorous audit, they can use the new sustainability seal.

Although I have known about this for some time, I thought I’d finally utilize the numbers on these South African bottle seals and, using the Seal Search website, trace the individual wines back to their source.



2020 Ken Forrester Vineyards “Old Vine Reserve” Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Alcohol 14% Residual Sugar2 g/l) LCBO Vintages $17.95 (750 ml bottle)

I’m constantly amazed at this wine, as vintage after vintage Ken Forrester produces one of South Africa’s star Chenin Blancs at a pricepoint that is certainly not going to break the bank; indeed, it utterly baffles me how he can afford to make such damn good wine from such venerable Chenin vines, sourced from half a dozen older blocks, and then sell it at $17.95.

If you are new to South African Chenin Blanc, I can think of no better place to start than right here. Ken’s Old Vines Reserve from the unirrigated bush vines deep in the region’s Clovelly soil (deep, yellow sand) is truly benchmark stuff.

To paraphrase Toto, they had been missing the rains down in (South) Africa up until this vintage, and thankfully the vines were given the quenching they so deserved. While the wine may not be quite as hyper-concentrated as the previous few vintages, the old vine density on the palate is still present, but lifted by an almost ethereal freshness. Half of the wine is fermented in stainless with the other half fermented naturally in French oak.

On the nose I get loads of Anjou pear, Tarte Tatin, grilled melon, with a touch of subtle vanilla and beeswax. The palate is quite astounding, synchronizing all that super-ripe fruit with some mighty fierce acid, man. Having a stomach of a somewhat nervous disposition, I have to enjoy Chenin Blancs with food, and that’s not a problem here as the wine is thrillingly versatile when it comes to pairing. It’s got enough acid/mineral raw power to take on more strongly flavoured dishes, and also the elegance to sit alongside more delicate gastronomic pleasures.

One of my all time faves when it comes to South African wines, especially when talking about accessibilty.

(Four and a half apples out of a possible five)

“It is our vision to improve the lot of our employees by growing our business and thereby providing maximum job opportunities in a market that is desperate for support. We go a step further, we farm sustainably with no herbicides or pesticides, we till by hand, hugely labour intensive, but very satisfying, we prune, thin bunches and leaves all by hand and finally we harvest by hand. This additional employment we hope goes some way to improving the quality of life in our community and we know that if every community looked after their own, no-one would go wanting. This is our proposal, and consequently each bottle is a victory and represents a small change – for the better – in someone’s life.”

In all of my run-ins with winemaker Ken Forrester, I’ve always been struck at how often he mentions the welfare of the people he works with, and, as well as all the other good stuff, it is this type of sustainability through social responsibility that he constantly champions.

A quick Seal Search reveals:

Production Area: STELLENBOSCH
Cultivar(s): CHENIN BLANC
Vintage: 2020
Application Number: 2021/8028
Code Serial Number: 9308 574515-585596
Wine & Spirit Board Certificate No.: ST975
Sensorial Evaluation Date: 20210305
Sustainability Status: Certified
Trade names associated with this application as supplied by Producer
Trade name(s): KEN F OLD VINE RES


2021 Warwick “Professor Black” Sauvignon Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Alcohol 13.5% Residual Sugar 2 g/l) LCBO Vintages $16.95 (750 ml bottle)

Hailing from the clay and decomposed granite soils found in the foothills of the Simonsberg mountain, at 240 – 360m above sea level, these older vines (some going back three decades) produce a wine that is simply head and shoulders above much of the Sauvignon Blanc coming from South Africa today. Given the double whammy of elevation and being buffeted by cool coastal breezes, the fruit is able to ripen perfectly, and the phenolic proof is found right here in the glass. Given 6 – 12 days skin contact before being gently pressed, the wine is aged on its lees for 100 days before blending.

The bouquet is textbook, with gorgeous elderberries, blackcurrant cordial, green apple, peach, lemon/lime, celery rib, and passion fruit. It’s a rather complex nose for such a modestly-priced wine.

The palate is no slouch either, being rich, mouth-filling, and generously textured, with just enough crispness to counter the ripe Sauvignon fruit. The minerally finish is extremely persistent, and quite a surprise at such a price point.

It’s probably worth noting here that in previous vintages there have been small Semillon components, but with 2021 they feel that the Sauvignon Blanc is strong enough to go it alone, and they are not wrong.

Bloody excellent juice if you are a Sauvignon Blanc fan, and worth checking out even if you are not.

4 apples out of 5
(Four apples out of a possible five)

“It may be admirable to produce a wine… [ like our Trilogy, ] …that can outlast a generation. But it’s essential to preserve our environment to outlast us all.”

Warwick appear to tick all the boxes when it comes to careful land stewardship: encouragement of biodiversity, sowing of cover crops (lupins and radishes) to naturally uplift soil compaction and promote microbial activity, judicious water management, and no harmful insecticides, employing natural predators instead.

A quick Seal Search reveals:

Production Area: STELLENBOSCH
Vintage: 2021
Application Number: 2021/4263
Code Serial Number: 9380 691000-696589
Wine & Spirit Board Certificate No.: TT779
Sensorial Evaluation Date: 20210528
Sustainability Status: Certified
Trade names associated with this application as supplied by Producer


2019 Creation Syrah/Grenache, Walker Bay, South Africa (Alcohol 14% Residual Sugar 1.6 g/l) Consignment from Gradwell Wines (new website coming soon) $28.95 (comes in cases of 6 x 750 ml bottles)

Creation is the vinous lovechild of Swiss-born Jean-Claude and South Africa-native Carolyn Martin (née Finlayson). Both coming from pioneering wine families, they sought to establish a vine growing estate in a remote corner of the Walker Bay area that had never previously been planted to vines.

This 75% Syrah/25% Grenache blend is matured for 14 months in 25% new oak, and has a good few years of life left in it, that’s for sure. It’s a thoroughly modern take on the classic southern French blend, and reminds me somewhat of a La Livinière Minervois, such is the polish and élan on this incredibly well-crafted wine. The oak influence is certainly present, but never dominating, and will surely integrate even more over the next 5+ years in bottle.

For me the bouquet is dark berry fruits, roasted fennel, thyme, wood spice, and cracked black pepper. The palate is exceptionally smooth and balanced, with some seriously supple tannins that are most enjoyable.

I did snigger at the winery’s marketing material on this wine, as I have never heard of a wine referred to as being “well endowed” previously. Nevertheless, it appears that the internet has run with this, as if one is to Google this particular wine, one will find innumerable references to it being described in this manner.

Its suggested food pairing is with Cape Malay Lamb Curry, which if I remember correctly is made with mutton, a real favourite of mine.

Well endowed, indeed…

(Four apples out of a possible five)

“To acknowledge the role Mother Nature plays in our success, Creation is a member of the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative (BWI) and committed to conserving our natural heritage by implementing long-term biodiversity as well as sustainability programmes… …Working hand in hand with Nature, Creation is one of only nine wineries in South Africa to have received the coveted EnviroWines accreditation.”

It looks like Creation wines are right up there when it comes to some serious sustainability smarts. Great stuff.

A quick Seal Search reveals:

Production Area: WALKER BAY
Vintage: 2019
Application Number: 2021/17450
Code Serial Number: 9379 413070-417395
Wine & Spirit Board Certificate No.: TI118
Sensorial Evaluation Date: 20210518
Sustainability Status: Certified
Trade names associated with this application as supplied by Producer


2020 Gabrielskloof “Whole Bunch” Syrah, Walker Bay, South Africa (Alcohol 14.5% Residual Sugar 1.5 g/l) Consignment from Lusocape $32.95 (comes in cases of 6 x 750 ml bottles)

Now this little bottle of wine blew my mind last night.

It’s very rarely I have come across South Africa Syrah that could easily pass as northern Rhône (Sadie and Mullineux, I’m looking at you here), but this limited release from Gabrielskloof is right on the money.

As part of the winery’s Projects Range, this wine is only bottled in vintages they deem to be outstanding, and this wine is indeed outstanding. This second vintage of this wine sees fruit coming from the famed Bokkeveld shale of the region. The grapes are hand-picked and fermented carbonically for 10 days, then gently pressed and settled for 8 months in steel tanks.

The resultant wine is slightly reductive to my senses, and curiously they do mention this on their website. Give it a while in the glass and the wine really comes into its own.

The nose is seriously intense. Think ripe black olives, dark black fruit, touches of spicy rotundone alongside lifted floral nuances, and a sultry smoked meat character that I found veered into Azorean blood sausage (read: black pudding) territory. This carries into the palate, as I found it to be almost iron-rich in the mouth. The whole bunch ferment coupled with the hot and dry drought conditions of the vintage bring some really firm and grippy structure to the wine; it’s astringent like a coiled spring, but this is countered by the gorgeous and giving ripe black fruit character. For me the whole experience was like an umami bomb in itself, but this could only improve alongside some food.

I’m really looking forward to revisiting this wine tonight to see how it has evolved.

Lovely, lovely juice.

(Four and a half apples out of a possible five)

“Our soils do not allow for high yields and all the vineyards on the property have been tended to with the utmost care since day one. All vineyard work is done by hand and sustainability takes precedence in every decision made in the vineyard, as is reflected by our status as a Biodiversity and Wine Champion.”

Another Biodiversity and Wine Champion, so it appears that Gabrielskloof take sustainability rather serious. Like all four of the farms represented here, they certainly walk the walk.

A quick Seal Search reveals:

Production Area: BOT RIVER
Cultivar(s): SHIRAZ
Vintage: 2020
Application Number: 2020/26185
Code Serial Number: 9236 752555-756364
Wine & Spirit Board Certificate No.: SX721
Sensorial Evaluation Date: 20201104
Sustainability Status: Certified
Trade names associated with this application as supplied by Producer
Trade name(s): WHOLE BUNCH SYRAH 2020