From Vine to Glass: South African Wine & Traceability

In the Middle Ages wax seals were used to authenticate documents. South Africa’s own sustainability wine seal does a similar job. The seal guarantees that the information on the bottle label about the variety, vintage and origin of the wine is accurate and that the wine has been grown and made in an environmentally friendly way. To date, South Africa is the only country in the world with such an all-encompassing guarantee.

What does that mean and how is it possible? Let’s start with the possible bit. The Wine of Origin seal was introduced through legislation in 1973 at a time when the wine industry was controlled by a monopoly. A large bureaucracy and a team of inspectors were involved in recording what varieties were grown where, and tracing the harvest through winemaking and into the bottle. With the advent of democracy, the best of this system was kept, streamlined and moved to SAWIS (South Africa Wine Industry Information Services) where inspectors continue to ensure that wineries follow the Wine of Origin legislation.  You will see two unique numbers on the seal of any wine bottle and if you go to the SAWIS website (www.sawis.co.za) and enter those numbers it will verify the information- and if there are any issues, SAWIS can use those numbers to track the wine all the way back to the vineyard it was grown in. That’s 100% traceability that’s been in place for nearly half a century!

South Africa also has an official scheme known as the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW), introduced in 1998. IPW has protocols around environmental sustainability criteria which include limiting the use of pesticides, introducing natural predators, the conservation of biodiversity, the management of waste water, worker safety and more. Vineyards and wineries are audited and scored for compliance.

The current Sustainability seal, introduced in 2010, was an upgrade to the original Wine of Origin seal. It merged the Wine of Origin traceability with the scores from the IPW audits – vineyards and wineries need to have achieved a pass on the IPW scores.

So, let’s look at what this Sustainability seal means for the wine in your bottle. It means that: 

  • 85% of the grapes were harvested in the year stated as the vintage on the label
  • 85% are from the variety or varieties stated 
  • 100% of the grapes are from the place of origin stated 
  • If the wine is an estate wine, 100% of the grapes were sourced from vineyards on that estate and the wine was made and bottled on that estate
  • If it is a single vineyard wine, 100% of the grapes were grown in that one specific vineyard (the maximum size is 6 hectares) 
  • The vineyards and wineries have achieved a high standard of environmental sustainability.

And there’s more. Our traceability system has resulted in another South African world first, introduced in 2018, namely the certified Heritage Vineyards seal, which guarantees that the wine is made from vineyards that are 35 years or older and even gives the planting date.

 Wine people talk about terroir when they refer to the soils and climate that influence wines. Premium wines reflect this sense of place and our Sustainability and Old Vine seals give the world the confidence that we respect and celebrate our unique terroir, right down to the oldest single vineyard.

South African growers and winemakers are a pretty individualistic, independent bunch but they’re proud of the fact that we are world leaders in farming for the future and that we can trace our wine from vine to glass and so they stick to the rules and help make the sustainability seal system work.

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