File image
The 2018 wine grape harvest, some two weeks later than in previous years, has delivered healthy, good quality grapes, although the crop is about 30% down on last year’s harvest.

Distell’s head winemaker Nië* Groenewald said the 2018 wine grape harvest has been one of the most challenging seasons in recent years.

“The ongoing drought in the Cape has certainly had an impact on this year’s harvest, with some vineyards being water-stressed, but frost, hail and sunburn were also contributing factors in certain areas. 

"We have seen slower ripening of the grapes than usual due to smaller canopies, limited water in the soil and that available for irrigation,” he said.

Distell accounts for just under a third of total wine production in South Africa.

Groenewald said Distell’s substantial footprint across wine growing areas of the Cape gives it ready access to grape and wine supplies, helping offset the drop in yields.

“It was definitely one of the most challenging harvesting seasons in recent years. But from what we can judge, the dry growing conditions seem to have had a relatively favourable impact on the quality of our premium quality grapes, depending on the growing area,” he said.

Despite a dry winter last year, early summer (September to November) growing conditions were good with improved conditions of cool weather and some rain in October and November following erratic winter temperatures.

“The prevalence of wind during October and November adversely affected flowering. The windy and cool conditions during the spring flowering period spring (September and October) also resulted in ‘poor set’ and therefore a smaller crop,” Groenewald said.

“Poor set” is when grape bunches present berries that differ in size and maturity. It is caused by cold, rainy or otherwise bad weather during the flowering stage of the vines.

“Frost damage at the end of October had a negative impact in certain areas. High temperatures exceeding 35C in December and January, as well as limited availability of water for irrigation, all played a role in shaping this year’s harvest.

“Wine grape growers and producers need to accelerate efforts to adapt to conditions of the drought. This is the new normal.” Groenewald said.