This year's grape harvest will be smaller than last year's because of the drought and October heatwave – but the quality of the wine is likely to be better.
The smaller harvest will mean a shortage of wine that will have to be made up by imports to meet local demand. About two-thirds of the country's wine grapes have already been harvested and based on this, the South African Wine Industry Information Systems has calculated that the harvest will be lower than 2018 – and that year was the lowest the harvest had been for 13 years.
The grapes – or "berries" as wine farmers call them – are smaller than usual this season, and there are not as many on a bunch. This is the result of the three-year drought that has hammered Western Cape agriculture, and also a result of the heatwave in October which reduced pollination during the vines' flowering season.
But according to Anton Smuts, chair of Vinpro, which represents around 3 500 wine producers, the smaller grapes produce better quality wine.
"The smaller berry has less weight and that usually gives rise to better quality. There is a lot of flavour in the husks, or skins, and the smaller the ratio between husks and juice, usually the higher the quality," Smuts said.
"So what you lose on the swings you make on the roundabouts. We have less crop volume, but increased quality, and producers have the possibility of raising prices."
The lower harvest, coupled with the low harvest of 2018, will mean that wine will have to be imported to meet local demand.
Vineyards not fully recovered
"Some years we don't have to import, but we will this year as there are not enough stocks to take us through to next season."
The improved quality for this season's harvest would be spread across the spectrum of wines, but might not apply to all wine regions in the country as not all of them experienced the same drought and weather conditions.
Smuts said the combination of the drought and the heatwave had affected many wine areas, particularly Vredendal, Namaqualand, Robertson and the Klein Karoo. Harvests in the Orange River, Stellenbosch and Worcester areas were likely more or less the same as last year, while those in Paarl were likely to be slightly higher.
"The Little Karoo was very hard hit. A vine is a desert plant, but having a drought of three or four years affects the plants and they don't grow, they're inclined to retract a bit to try to survive. And the heatwave we had in October was not ideal for pollination to take place. It was above normal temperatures, and there were stronger than normal winds at the start of summer," Smuts said.
Low humidity, lack of water and high temperatures are all factors that can negatively affect pollination during the vine's flowering season, and reduce the number of flowers that are fertilised.
Francois Viljoen, manager of Vinpro's viticulture consultation service, said many vineyards, especially those that were not under irrigation, had not fully recovered from the effects of the three-year drought. The drought was still continuing in the Klein Karoo.
The rains in many areas of the Western Cape this month were welcomed by many farmers on the one hand, but had also led to more problems, such as rot, in some cases.
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