DRY WHITES: Workers harvest grapes at the La Motte wine farm in Franschhoek in January 2016. Picture: REUTERS
DRY WHITES: Workers harvest grapes at the La Motte wine farm in Franschhoek in January 2016. Picture: REUTERS

The SA wine grape harvest for 2019 will hit a record low, largely due to the drought and fluctuating weather conditions during the growing season, estimates by the SA Wine Industry and Systems (Sawis) have shown.

Sawis says the wine grape crop is estimated at 1,225,620 tonnes. Although only 1.4% smaller than last year, the crop has shrunk for the second consecutive year and 2019 represents a record low since 2005 when 1,171,632 tonnes were harvested.

Wine is one of SA’s main agricultural exports, with nearly 100,000ha of vineyards, mostly in the Western Cape, accounting for 4% of world production. The industry contributes R36bn to GDP and employs nearly 290,000 people. However, wine grape producers have been under severe financial pressure in recent years with more than a third of producers making a loss. The industry now has about 25% fewer producers than a decade ago, according to wine producers body VinPro.

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Francois Viljoen, viticultural consultation service manager at Vinpro, said on Monday it had been a trying year for local wine grape producers and wineries.

“A decline in area under vines and challenging weather conditions contributed to the smaller harvest,” said Viljoen.

He said although most regions received good rainfall during the season, the after-effects of the preceding three year drought was still visible and vineyards and soils will take some time to recover. “The drought was still lingering during the post-harvest period, which meant many producers couldn’t apply crucial post-harvest irrigation. As a result leaves fell early and vines couldn’t accumulate the reserves needed to carry them through the season, which in turn affected the berry set and growth,” Viljoen said.

Despite the smaller crop, wine enthusiasts can expect good-quality wines from the 2019 vintage. Viljoen said the smaller wine grape berries have a greater concentration of flavours. In general, wines also had good acidity, sugar and elegance which bodes well for quality.

“We saw once again this year virus-free vines which are managed well do much better than others in terms of both yield and quality. We encourage all wine grape producers to follow suit,” Viljoen said.

The 2019 wine harvest — including juice and concentrate for nonalcoholic purposes, wine for brandy and distilling wine — is expected to amount to 951.8-million litres at an average recovery of 777-litres per tonne of grapes.