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Distell defies challenging season with promising harvest

Published:  02 May, 2018

Distell has reported a ‘promising quality’ harvest despite experiencing one of the most challenging seasons in recent years.

The company, which accounts for nearly a third of total wine production in South Africa, said the harvest had delivered “healthy, good quality grapes”, but that the crop was down about 30% on last year’s intake although yields had differed across regions.

“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,” said head winemaker Niël Groenewald.

Due to smaller canopies, limited water in the soils and that available for irrigation, Distell had seen slower ripening of the grapes, he added.

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

Distell’s substantial footprint across wine growing areas of the Cape, which gives it ready access to grape and wine supplies, would help offset the drop in yields this year, added Groenewald.

“We have a very flexible sourcing policy with the manoeuvrability to respond to a variety of climatic outcomes.”

The 2018 harvest would capitalise on the global trend of wine drinkers seeking out wines with slightly lower ABV that still offered spectrum and intensity of flavour, he said, with whites featuring an average 12% ABV and reds 13.5% ABV.

Given some rain in March and April, Groenewald said Distell was also expecting a good noble late harvest and special late harvest wines from the 2018 vintage.

Looking ahead, he said it was evident that South African wine grape growers and producers needed to “accelerate efforts to adapt to conditions of the drought”, adding “this is the new normal”.

In February, the company reported a 9.3% increase in revenues to R13.4 billion (£828 million) on volumes up 3.7% in the six months to 31 December 2018. Its premium portfolio includes Nederburg, Durbanville Hills, Alto, Fleur du Cap, Zonnebloem, Plaisir de Merle and Allesverloren.