South Africa harvests smaller wine grape crop: but producers optimistic about quality

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

South Africa wine grape harvest 2018
South Africa’s 2018 wine grape crop is estimated to be around 15% lower than last year, but wine grape producers and cellars say they are optimistic about the quality of wines from the harvest, despite the challenges the industry has faced.

According to wine industry body Vinpro, the 2018 harvest has come in at 1,220,920 tonnes, 15% smaller than in 2017. 

Drought in South Africa, along with water restrictions, has been a key challenge for winemakers in the region. 

Drought and frost

South Africa ranks as the eighth largest overall volume producer for wine, and produces around 4% of the world’s wine. The country boasts some 95,775 hectares of vines, employing around 290,000 people and contributing R36bn ($2.9bn) to the country’s GDP.

Total crop size

The 2018 wine grape crop is estimated at 1,220,920 tonnes (end of April 2018): 15% lower than in 2017.

The wine harvest – juice and concentrate for non-alcoholic purposes, wine for brandy and distilling wine included – is expected to amount to 948.3 million litres, calculated at an average recovery of 777 litres per ton of grapes.

South African Wine Industry Information and Systems (Sawis)

However, both water shortages and frost have affected the 2018 harvest.

Francois Viljoen, manager of Vinpro’s viticultural consultation service, said: “The 2018 harvest season was really challenging, due to a prolonged drought which some believe to be the worst in 100 years, and accompanied by water restrictions and frost damage in some areas.”

The Olifants River region has been hardest hit due to a water allocation that was only 20% of the normal allowance form the Clanwilliam Dam. Meanwhile, while water supply was sufficient in the Northern Cape region, vines recovered poorly from frost damage earlier in the season.

On the positive side, however, dry weather means pests and diseases have not been a problem in most areas and vines have been healthy. 

Despite the challenges, wine makers are positive about the quality of the harvest - a key area it is focusing on as an industry. Berries were much smaller than usual, affecting total tonnage, but smaller berries usually have a good colour and flavour intensity. Meanwhile, cooler weather during harvest time relieved some of the pressure on the vines. 

Variation between night and day temperatures throughout the ripening stage also gave colours and flavour formulation a boost - which are ‘indicative of remarkable quality wines’. 

“The South African wine industry is already very diverse due to the variation in climate and terroir between the respective regions,” ​Viljoen continued. “But this year it was exceptionally difficult to generalise as the conditions would differ significantly from one region, and even one farm, to the next, depending on access to water, the prioritisation of other crops on the farm and how the vineyard was managed to cope with the drought.”

Producers are now hoping that the 2018 winter will break the drought and vines will recover sufficiently in the run-up towards the 2019 wine grape harvest.

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