Vineyards feel the heat from rising temperature

Published Apr 19, 2011


Climate change was having an unmistakable effect on grape harvests, an executive of wine and spirits conglomerate Distell said yesterday, and the group was conducting a search for new areas for vineyards.

Erhard Wolf, Distell’s chief grape and wine buyer, said it had already pioneered the development of new vineyards in Elgin, near Gansbaai, and in Ceres to meet the changing conditions, extending the Cape wine-producing area.

Meanwhile, this year’s crop for Distell was 8 percent less than last year while some producers had experienced a drop of as much as 30 percent due to weather conditions.

“Fortunately quality has not been compromised but from a logistical point of view this has been an exceptionally difficult year. We have seen generally outstanding red and mostly good white grapes delivered to the cellars despite setbacks brought on by very demanding weather conditions.”

Distell, which accounts for about one-third of natural and sparkling wine in South Africa, would have suffered “a dramatically higher reduction in crop intakes” if it were not for factors including access to well-located vineyards, its investment in technology to measure vine water status, ongoing research into identifying optimal ripeness and the ability to source from vineyards across the Cape Winelands.

The higher-than-average temperatures in February and March had accelerated ripening, shortening the harvest by three weeks. Weekend, dawn and twilight picking had enabled the growers to cope with this and deliveries were distributed across all Distell’s cellars to relieve congestion.

“There is no disputing the impact of climate change.The 2011 vintage marks the third consecutive year characterised by higher temperatures outside the regular parameters, unseasonal rains, dry spells and excessively strong winds. Last year crop sizes were down by between 12 percent and 15 percent compared with 2009.”

Wolf said the group was planning for the long term by exploring potential new areas for vineyards. “South African legislation does not constrain where we site our vineyards as is the case with many Old World countries. We still have land available and we are excited by the possibilities.”

Last year Andre Morgenthal, the communications officer for Wines of South Africa, said the Western Cape was better placed than some of the world’s top wine-growing areas, such as Bordeaux, to deal with climate change because of its mountainous area, which meant that vineyards on a north-facing slope could be moved to a south-facing one, and those on the coast were cooled by breezes from the sea. - Audrey D’Angelo

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