Wines of South Africa (WOSA) CEO Su Birch has been lauded by the
international drinks fraternity for her role in promoting sustainability
in the South African wine industry, winning the 2013 The Drinks
Business Green Awards Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Drinks Business is a UK-based publication with an international readership amongst drinks industry leaders. Its Lifetime Achievement Green Award is the highest annual honour it bestows in what it bills as "the world’s largest programme to raise awareness of green issues in the drinks trade and recognise and reward those who are leading the way in sustainability and environmental performance."
Birch, who has been WOSA CEO since 2000, emerged the winner at a London event yesterday (April 23, 2013) for having dedicated a significant part of her working life to "environmental and/or ethical causes" and was acknowledged for her significant role in both areas.
She is also a former winner of both The Drinks Business Woman of the Year and the International Wine and Spirit Competition’s Women in Wine Award, and last year was identified as one of the ten most influential personalities in the world of wine by UK market analysts Wine Intelligence.
Birch has played a key role in advancing South Africa's reputation as one of the most progressive amongst wine-producing nations in driving eco-sustainable wine production. Under the banner “variety is in our nature” she has actively promoted the country’s competitive positioning in producing a rich variety of wine styles. She is also credited with spearheading South Africa’s far-reaching Biodiversity & Wine Initiative (BWI) that has seen producers set aside substantially more land for conservation than the equivalent of the national vineyard.
She has been one of the major advocates of the country’s Sustainability Seal, the first industry-wide initiative of its kind anywhere in the world, to promote production integrity from the vineyard to the consumer. This was followed by the introduction last year of an Ethical Seal, also the first of its kind, that confirms the implementation of fair labour practices by wine producers.
At an international level she has also been one of the key drivers for co-operation amongst normally competing New World wine-producing countries, playing an important part in bringing South Africa, New Zealand, the US, Chile and Argentina together at the annual international trade fair ProWein, where the countries annually present a collective showcase.
The Beautiful South is an extension of this approach in which Argentina, Chile and South Africa will present their first combined trade exhibition in the UK in September. She has been a prime mover in its conception and organisation.
Birch says the exhibition in London will be her WOSA swansong as she plans to leave the organisation soon after to pursue a personal project that, she says, she has been deferring for "too long".
"The lifetime achievement is a high note on which to announce my plan to leave WOSA later this year. I shall be leaving the organisation with a sound international team in place at the same time that the country has evolved into a significant player in world wine markets, well on its way to capturing and building on new opportunities."
She said a search for a successor was to be conducted as a priority over the coming weeks. She will remain in her position till the end of September. This is both to hand over to the new incumbent and to allow her to oversee The Beautiful South.
After a brief "sabbatical", Birch plans to focus on the development of cost-effective marketing solutions for a range of industries. "Rising costs and a volatile exchange rate are forcing South Africans to work smarter and with greater agility in order to be heard in an increasingly competitive environment, whether locally or internationally. Working to very tight budgets demands stringent discipline but also encourages creative problem-solving. This is where I believe I can play a meaningful role."
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