FACING HARD TIMES: The Western Cape drought has dealt a heavy blow to the bulk wine industry. Picture: Rogan Ward
FACING HARD TIMES: The Western Cape drought has dealt a heavy blow to the bulk wine industry. Picture: Rogan Ward

#WaterCrisis: Drought hits wine harvest

By Luyol Mkentane Time of article published Jan 9, 2018

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Cape Town - Wine industry leaders warn that the drought ravaging the Western Cape would have a major effect on the 2018 harvest, with yields expected to plunge 50%.

Industry organisation VinPro said it was bracing itself for what might be the “smallest harvest in more than a decade”, as the drought persisted, resulting in the winelands being declared a disaster area last year.

Wineries and viticulturists were now predicting a “much smaller 2018 crop” compared to last year’s estimated 1.4 million tons, according to the SA Wine Industry Information and Systems.

Roland Peens, a director at Wine Cellar, said it was the bulk wine industry that would be affected the most as it made up 90% of the industry in terms of volume produced.

However, the premium wine sector, which he characterised as a very small part of the industry, was doing “very well at the moment” as the wine was in high demand globally. It competed with wines produced in Australia, Chile and France, among other countries.

“We might lose some traction on the international market if the profitability and yields are down significantly in 2018,” said Peens.

He said this year the bulk wine sector could see yields go down 25% to 50% due to the persistent dry conditions.

VinPro consultation services manager Francois Viljoen warned that the current drought and predicted long-term drying trends in the Western Cape would have a major effect on this year's harvest.

“Most of the industry’s large irrigation dams are 30% to 40% full. This means that wine grape producers’ water resources were cut by 40% to 60% and they could not fully meet their vines’ water demand.

“Despite the fact that the 2018 harvest might be much smaller, vineyards are in a very good condition due to frequent rainfall in October and November, as well as cooler weather up to the end of November.”

Viljoen also noted that widespread frost damage at the end of September and start of October would result in large crop losses in certain areas in the Orange River, Breedekloof, Worcester and Robertson wine regions.

Despite the drought, the 2017 harvest was 1.4% bigger than 2016.

“The dry, windy conditions resulted in healthy vines that needed less chemicals to keep pests and diseases at bay,” Viljoen said.

VinPro managing director Rico Basson said South Africa was not the only wine producing country expecting a smaller harvest, as the yields of France, Italy, Spain and California were also under pressure from natural phenomena.

“This, combined with a greater demand, is set to lead to a wine shortage in specific categories worldwide. Although wine shelves won't suddenly be empty, the relative wine shortage creates an excellent opportunity for the industry to compete at higher price points,” he said.

It is anticipated that the drought will lead to massive job losses in the agriculture sector. Alan Winde, Western Cape MEC for Economic Opportunities, Tourism and Agriculture, previously said that they estimate about 45 000 job losses in the sector.

Cape Argus

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