Water shortages mean smaller harvest for winemakers

2016-01-28 21:15
Alan Winde (left) walks through the vineyards of Diemersfontein Wine Estate with some of the employees. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Alan Winde (left) walks through the vineyards of Diemersfontein Wine Estate with some of the employees. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

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Cape Town - While the drought in parts of the Western Cape will affect this year's grape harvest, experts have predicted the smaller vintage would lead to higher quality wines this season, MEC of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde said on Thursday.

The provincial minister visited the Diemersfontein Wine Estate in Wellington, where winemakers said they expect to make only about half of the 500 ton harvest recorded last year.

Agriculture is a major job creator, Winde said, with hundreds of thousands of people employed.

While the recent fires haven’t affected the vineyards, the drought has put pressure on the industry. 

Wine tourism generates R6 billion for the national economy annually, Winde said, and the Western Cape boasts 700 wine farms.

"As demand for our product grows, we will need to develop appropriate irrigation infrastructure to ensure we can increase production. This includes supporting efforts to increase the volume of water in the Brandvlei Dam," he said.

"In this regard, we have established an inter-governmental and industry task team. The expansion of the Brandvlei Dam also seeks to mitigate the impact of future water shortages for the wine industry."

Diemersfontein viticulturist Waldo Kellerman said normal production has been affected by the drought, meaning they would have to buy in grapes from other producers, who were also running short.

Alternatively, they buy in wine from other cellars.

The last "decent" rainfall was recorded in June last year, Kellerman explained.

"Harvest season will also probably be shortened from six weeks to four," he said.

Grape picker Gerrit Smith demonstrated an example of the effect the drought had had on the harvest.

"It becomes shrivelled up and starts to look like a raisin," he said, holding up a bunch. 

"While some of it can still be used, the more badly affected grapes won't make the cut."

Despite the loss in harvest, upping the price of their product is a last resort, Kellerman said.

"The wine market is very sensitive. It's extremely competitive. If you should increase your price by R10, you may lose the customer who would rather switch brands than pay more."

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