Drought-ravaged Western Cape braces for smallest grape harvest since 2005
The South African wine industry, which is reeling because of the severe drought in the Western Cape, is bracing itself for what might be the smallest harvest in more than a decade.
The South African wine industry is the ninth-largest producer of wine in the world and contributes 4% to global production. SA exports 440-million litres of wine annually and sells 400-million litres locally.
According to a recent survey by the SA Wine Industry Information and Systems, wineries and viticulturists are predicting a much smaller 2018 crop compared with 2017, which could possibly be the smallest since 2005.
Wine industry body VinPro said at the weekend that drought, a shrinking area under vines and frost damage would have the greatest effect on the crop size.
VinPro said seasonal employment opportunities would be cut significantly due to the smaller harvest, which would have a negative effect on the socioeconomic conditions of wine industry communities.
VinPro’s consultation service manager, Francois Viljoen, said the drought conditions that had been prevalent in the Western Cape for the third consecutive season would have a major effect on the 2018 harvest. He said most of the industry’s large irrigation dams were 30%-40% full, which meant that wine grape producers could not fully meet their vines’ water demand.
The Olifants River region is expected to experience a substantial decline in yield, as producers in this region were allocated less than 25% of their usual water quota from the Clanwilliam Dam in the course of the season. The Orange River region is currently the only wine region not experiencing water shortages.
The area under vines has also shrunk annually since 2007. The industry uproots more vineyards than it plants — a trend that has sped up in the past two years. In 2016 the total area under vines amounted to 95,775ha compared with 100,568ha in 2011 — a 5% decline in the past five years, VinPro said.
"Despite the fact that the 2018 harvest might be much smaller, vineyards are in a very good condition due to frequent rainfall in October and November, as well as cooler weather up to the end of November," said Viljoen.
"The low dam levels and insufficient water resources are most likely to have the greatest determinant of a smaller 2018 harvest. Good, regular showers in December and January may, of course, bring great relief and change the outlook for the better," he said.
VinPro MD Rico Basson said SA was not the only wine-producing country expecting a smaller harvest. The yields of France, Italy, Spain and the US’s California were also under pressure from natural phenomena and this, combined with a greater demand, was set to lead to a wine shortage in specific categories worldwide.
"Although wine shelves won’t suddenly be empty, the relative wine shortage creates an excellent opportunity for the industry to compete at higher price points," Basson said.