Responsible sourcing

Radford Dale – a pioneering spirit in South Africa

Each month, we profile one of our producers who is making great strides in sustainability, whether environmentally, socially, or in other areas. This month, we get to know more about South Africa’s Radford Dale.

Radford Dale entrance

Radford Dale have worked with us for over 30 years and supply our Society’s pinotage-syrah among other wines, as well as proving a brilliant case study in pioneering sustainable practices, despite challenging circumstances.   

“It was during the initial ravages of Covid (as much economically in South Africa as with the effects of the disease itself) that we took a huge leap - at a time when it was illegal to sell wine in South Africa - and acquired cool climate Elgin’s only certified organic winery and vineyard.” says Alex Dale, who founded the estate in 1998 with Ben Radford.

The rewards for this bravery come in the form of their new organic estate in Elgin, around 40 miles southeast of Cape Town. Elgin is a very different climate to Stellenbosch, where the rest of their wines are made, a particularly critical factor for organic farming. ‘Our biggest challenge is mother nature. Living on a knife edge in a high-rainfall, cool climate region such as Elgin is not good for the nerves.’ says Alex. ‘It would have been safer to farm organically in warmer areas, such as the Swartland or even Stellenbosch. But for the style of wines we like – more refined, fresh and balanced – Elgin is where we want to be, so the risks are far higher. The next biggest challenge is financial, as your production and your financial viability is constantly threatened by weather incidents, throughout the year. We also do a lot of work manually, especially in our high-density vines, so the tougher the conditions meteorologically, the more manual labour involved in the vineyards.’

Radford Dale
Handling grapes in the Radford Dale winery

Even before moving to organic certification in Elgin, they’ve been using what Alex calls ‘common sense vineyard practices’ for around twenty years. These include:   

  • erecting raptor perching poles throughout the vineyards to manage pests through natural selection rather than using pesticides  
  • filling nets with dog hair around vineyard blocks (mainly the young vines and newly planted sapling blocks with thin, juicy stems and branches) to repel deer who like to chew on the vines  
  • creating a water purification reed system, allowing winery effluent water to be clarified naturally by plants rather than chemicals and machinery    

Their approach is relatively low-intervention in the winery, but this is only possible with intense attention to detail in the vineyard, especially taxing with no chemical sprays to support. ‘We do a lot of work manually, for example picking off any individual leaves with signs of odium [powdery mildew], through each block of vineyards. It’s a massive task, which must be performed very punctually at onset, or else crop loss will be significant.’  

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Alex is optimistic that their estate represents a vibrant future for Elgin and for more sustainable winemaking in South Africa. ‘The younger generation is far more open than the incumbent, older generation and I am confident that, with time, attitudes will evolve.’ he says. ‘I grew up in Burgundy when very few organic producers existed. Fast-forward to today and so many of the top domaines are organic or biodynamic. Rome was not built in a day and, in viticulture, you get one cycle per year. So, you always need time - and patience!’

Their attitude to sustainability isn’t just limited to their farming practices, extending to social schemes too. “In 2006, we initiated the Land of Hope Educational Trust” says Alex. “This project serves to generate revenue, from the sale of wines of the Land of Hope range, to fully pay all educational costs for the children of our black employees. The state educational system in South Africa has become almost dysfunctional and standards are now far lower even than during apartheid. Faced with this reality, we decided to take matters into our own hands and to invest in the private education of every child (and dependent) of our black employees. This we have done since the 2007 vintage, from crèche age right through tertiary education. As Nelson Mandela so famously stated “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  I’m very pleased to say that The Wine Society has on regular occasions supported the LOH Trust, through selecting and importing into the UK various wines from the range.”

Radford Dale
Social commitment: Radford Dale funds private education for the children of all of its black employees

Radford Dale are trailblazers in many areas, even their choice of grape varieties, according to Alex. “We are the only producer of gamay in the country today. We own or manage about seven hectares of the approximately nine hectares planted in South Africa today – the balance is blended away.’ 

They also do what so many of our great sustainable producers do – not just follow, but lead: ‘In our Stellenbosch Winery, we work with various growers too and are leaning on them progressively to adopt organic methods, even if not full certification. We currently work with several growers who have adopted these measures and we continue to endeavour to further the understanding of the benefits to soil and vine health by improving viticultural practices and to reduce the use of chemicals and carbon fuels.’

Radford dale wines

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Radford Dale is just one of our producers with a more sustainable approach to winemaking. Explore our whole selection of producers making a difference.

Producers making a difference

Radford Dale is just one of our producers with a more sustainable approach to winemaking. Explore our whole selection of producers making a difference.

Amy Matthews

Acting Senior Editor

Amy Matthews

Amy is currently Acting Senior Editor at The Wine Society, including editing the Sustainability Hub. She has worked in wine for nearly twenty years for importers, wine bar groups and national retailers, as well as freelance drinks writing and content consultancy.

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