File image: A glass of red wine. (REUTERS/Isla Binnie).
CAPE TOWN - Despite the damaging drought that has affected parts of the Western Cape’s winelands, South Africa remained one of the world’s 15 largest wine producers, churning out 10.8 million hectolitres (hl) of wine in 2017.

One hectolitre equals 100 litres.

According to data from the Paris-based International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), South Africa occupied the number nine spot from the list of 15 countries, beating First World nations such as Russia, Germany and Portugal.

South Africa produced 11.2 million hl in 2015, but this slowed down 10.5 million hl in 2016 as the drought scourge affected grape production. However, local wine sales volume grew by 2.8% to 406 million litres in 2017 and the value increase by 8.6% to R13.2billion.

The OIV said wine production totaled 250 million hl last year, down 86% from 2016.

This was reportedly its lowest since 1957, when it had fallen to 173.8 million hl. This was attributed to poor weather in wine-producing regions of Italy, France and Spain.

The South African wine industry body, Vinpro, which represents about 3500 local wine producers, cellars and industry stakeholders, stated in January that the 2019 wine grape crop was expected to be the smallest since 2005.

This was due to a decline in vineyard area, an ongoing drought and crop losses due to frost and hail, according to Francois Viljoen, the manager of Vinpro’s viticultural consultation service. As a result the industry was bracing itself for a R700m shortfall at farm gate.

Vinpro media and communications manager Wanda Augustyn said: “Looking ahead, the 2019 wine grape harvest will depend greatly on rainfall during the 2018 winter season, as well as smart post-harvest practices by producers.

“We do expect a transfer effect, because a lot of vineyards were badly affected by the drought this year.

“To what extend this transfer effect will be depends on the 2018 winter season, as well as the longevity/lifespan of leaves of individual vineyards (the pace of leaves falling from vineyards will be much quicker if the drought persists), which, in return, will have an impact on the build-up of reserves for the next season.”

Augustyn said the wine industry was innovative and resilient and, in many cases, acted proactively to any situation that might result from the drought.