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South Africa braces itself for difficult growing season

Published:  26 October, 2017

South Africa's vignerons are bracing themselves for a potentially difficult growing season, as the Western Cape continues to suffer from a chronic drought.

A severe shortage of rain during winter has left vines across the Cape without the required water reserves needed through summer, according to local winemakers,

“The drought will have a real effect on the grape growing environment, with vineyards heavily reliant on irrigation schemes expected to be hard hit as allocations of water are slashed to 30% or less,” said Wim Truter, head winemaker at KWV.

“As a natural result, wine availability for the coming year will tighten and pricing will increase,” he added.

Roland Peens, director of leading online wine merchant Wine Cellar, told local journalists he expected volumes to be down “as much as 25% to 50%” in 2018.

However, KWV's viticulturist Marco Ventrella emphasised that it was too soon to predict the drought's full impact on the 2018 harvest.

“At present it is very difficult to quantify this impact as we are not yet even at flowering stage,” he said.

“We are fortunate to have a great grower base over the whole Western Cape all as committed as we are to ensuring our brands continue, which allows us to mitigate much of the issues experienced in a particular region when it comes to our products.”

Carl van der Merwe, Chief Executive and Cellarmaster at DeMorgenzon, told Harpers that he believed Stellenbosch would fair better than other regions, although he did expect yields on some blocks at DeMorgenzon to diminish by “perhaps 10-15%”, he said.

“Stellenbosch has not seen a lack of sufficient water to sustain vineyards during the Spring or early Summer. However, the Summer rainfall that we see in Jan and Feb has been absent over the last few years - to date we have been able to mitigate this with irrigation,” said van der Merwe.

“Areas that have a lower annual rainfall and have less access to irrigation will be much worse off, such as Swartland and Darling. Stellenbosch has still produced acceptable crops over the last few years, although vineyards with average yield in a normal year have shown smaller bunches and lighter crops,” he added.