Vergenoegd Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa, has some unique helpers when it comes to winemaking. An army of 800 Indian Runner ducks are specially reared to get rid of pests—a human employee, Nicole Arnold, calls the ducks “living pesticides,” and says their presence has reduced the amount of pesticide they use in their vineyards. Vergenoegd is actually a WWF-certified venue thanks to the hardworking ducks.
A past owner of the estate loved the birds, and specially flew them in from Asia in 1984. Indian Runner ducks are an unusual breed—they stand upright like penguins, cannot fly and are able to run quickly. Instead of making nests, they lay their eggs as they walk, and spend most of their time foraging snails and slugs. Now, they have a special breeding program to continue the unusual farming tradition—and takes a month of training to learn the routine.
Prior to introducing the ducks, 320-year-old Vergenoegd Wine Estate was known for producing heavy reds, and wanted to try something different. Though the winery had been using the ducks for several decades, the new owner, who took over in 2015, started promoting their quacking farmhands. The ducks have become something of a tourist attraction, parading through the grounds twice a day, and inspired the vineyard’s Runner Duck label.
The vineyard’s new owner bought the ducks with the vineyard as a package deal, agreeing to the “duck approach.” “The Runner Ducks represent tradition, sustainability and quality, since it is a very old technique to combat pests while not affecting the crops. Furthermore, the ducks are friendly and fun.”
Turns out, people are crazy for the ducks. I mean, have you ever seen a cuter pesticide? Thanks to plenty of news coverage, the vineyard has doubled its sales in the past year and renewed the public’s interest in their old-fashioned style of wine. Vergenoegd’s wines are quite heavy, best paired with food if you’re used to lighter vino. Visitors to the Capetown area vineyard have also increased, jumping from 400 monthly in late 2015 to over 3,000.
Marlize Jacobs, the estate’s winemaker told the Wall Street Journal, “I think people are more likely to buy the wine if there’s a sustainable story attached.”
Winemaking has a long history in South Africa, especially with a number of vineyards close to Cape Town. There are several other winemakers in Stellenbosch, where Vergenoegd is located, and produces excellent wine thanks to the area’s mediteranean climate. Pests are a major concern for winemaking here, so many South African vineyards are forced to use pesticides—major props to the ducks for being both environmentally friendly and adorable.