Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Many wine grape producers have not yet fully recovered from the effect of the three-year drought in the Western Cape.

Wine is one of SA’s largest 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.

According to the latest survey, SA Wine Industry Information & Systems performed among producer cellars and viticulturists, the 2019 wine grape harvest might at this stage be smaller than in 2018, a year in which the Western Cape was affected most severely affected by the drought.

“The berries and bunches are smaller, lighter and less dense than usual,” said Francois Viljoen, manager of viticulture consultation service at wine producers’ body Vinpro.

“This trend can be attributed to unfavourable weather conditions during flowering and set in October and November, as well as above average winds experienced at the start of summer.”

Viljoen said many vineyards, especially dryland vineyards, have not yet fully recovered from the effect of the three-year drought. The drought continued in the Klein Karoo region in 2018.

He said rainfall that occurred earlier in March in certain areas of the Western Cape necessitated greater inputs to control disease, while rot will also contribute to losses in certain wine grape areas and farms.

The Cape’s weather conditions have been moderate thus far, with normal yields being expected in this region, said Viljoen.

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 VinPro. It says the only way to ensure sustainability is for farmers to increase prices. they receive for wine.

Christo Conradie, Vinpro wine cellar manager, said previously that production costs have risen by 7.4% annually over the last 10 years, and with wine prices remaining stagnant until recently, more than 80% of  SA wine producers are farming below a sustainable net farm income of R30,000/ha.

Vinpro previously said that many wine grape farmers were either leaving the industry, uprooting vines for more profitable crops or not replacing vineyards.

The Bureau for Economic Research and the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy predict that at 85,000ha, the area under for wine grapes will be about 10% smaller by 2022.

The official 2019 Wine Harvest Report will be issued on May 7.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za