Prickly pears are part of the change

Marketing manager Simon Back

Marketing manager Simon Back

For the last 10 years, Backsberg Estate Cellars has run their 10/10 Project — 10 projects in 10 years, all falling under the ethos “Tread Lightly”. The first challenge was a carbon neutral status, which was achieved in 2006 and has been maintained until now, 2015, when it was once again confirmed.

The staff has worked on a number of different projects towards this. From annual carbon audits to using green methods to manage their viticulture operations, the holistic approach has marked the estate as an industry leader in creating green economy systems. 

The level of detail allows Backsburg to make changes where necessary. Thinking long term, the savings are paramount to the ecology of the land and sustainability of their business and vines.

In the last year, Backsberg Wine Estate has embarked on the first phase of a new plan.  

“The next part of the story is to manage our five-year plan: the aim is to become completely self-sufficient,” says marketing manager Simon Back. Backsberg has taken a decision to invest in a biomass boiler that drives a chiller plant. 

The biomass boiler uses wood chips from a local sawmill. “The key thing at the moment is to find different sources of biomass, and use this biomass in a burning process that will create electricity.” 

The water created through this process will be used as part of the cooling system in the cellar, saving the estate a huge amount of electricity.

The estate has chosen to propagate prickly pears for this purpose. “It’s a hardy plant that doesn’t need a huge amount of water,” says Back. It’s also easy to harvest and converts well. The plants are already at 30cm and the fields have been prepped. 

As part of the overall objective, once harvesting starts, an anaerobic digester will “soon be supplying methane to power small, converted vehicles and the farm’s electricity generator”. 

In support of their ongoing work, the German federal government is involved with the project and the South African government has sent a number of ministers and officials to acquaint themselves with what is achievable and what the country can realistically aim for. 

“On a macro-scale, these types of solutions are no longer fringe ideas. The nature of the climate in SA — if you’ll excuse the pun — is driving innovation. These solutions are then driving the green economy and renewable energy.” 

Other projects include ongoing training for employees, community education programmes and bursaries, offsetting carbon emissions through a community tree-planting scheme that also provides employment, and supporting research that pushes the industry forward. 

“We’re lucky that we have top end buy in. In our case, we’re driving this pursuit quite hard,” says Back.