The 2019 South African wine grape harvest hit a record low, largely owing to the preceding drought and fluctuating weather conditions during the season; however, winemakers are positive about the quality of this year’s vintage, Vinpro said in a statement on Monday.
Vinpro is a nonprofit company that represents 2 500 South African wine grape producers, cellars and wine-related businesses.
The 2019 wine grape crop is estimated at 1.23-million tons, according to the latest estimate by industry body South African Wine Industry Information and Systems (Sawis) on April 26.
Although only 1.4% smaller than last year, the crop has shrunk for the second consecutive year and 2019 represents a record low since 2005 when 1.17-million tons were harvested.
“It has been a trying year for our wine grape producers and wineries,” commented Vinpro viticultural consultation service manager Francois Viljoen.
He indicated that a decline in area under vines and challenging weather conditions contributed to the smaller harvest.
Although most regions received good rainfall during the season, it was highlighted that the after-effects of the preceding three-year drought were still visible and vineyards and soils will take some time to recover.
“The drought was still lingering during the post-harvest period, which meant many producers couldn’t apply crucial post-harvest irrigation. As a result, leaves fell early and vines couldn’t accumulate the reserves needed to carry them through the season, which in turn affected the berry set and growth,” Viljoen said.
Severe weather fluctuations during bud break and flowering, followed by cool windy conditions during set, contributed to less and uneven bunches and smaller berries.
“2019 tells the tale of two harvesting seasons – the first easy, with good weather conditions and great grape analyses up until the end of February, and the second challenging, characterised by slow ripening following cold, rainy weather in March,” noted Viljoen.
The Northern Cape, Swartland, Paarl and Worcester regions produced larger crops than last year, but from a low base following big losses in 2018. Breedekloof and the Cape South Coast region had somewhat smaller crops, in line with average yearly production.
Robertson and Stellenbosch also produced smaller crops, but the Olifants River and Klein Karoo regions were hit hardest for the second consecutive year owing to the drought.
Despite the smaller crop, consumers are told to expect good quality wines from the 2019 vintage. According to Viljoen, the smaller wine grape berries have a greater concentration of flavours. In general, wines made from these smaller grape berries also have good acidity, sugar and elegance which bodes well for quality.
The 2019 wine harvest – including juice and concentrate for non-alcoholic purposes, wine for brandy and distilling wine – is expected to amount to 951.8-million litres at an average recovery of 777 ℓ/t of grapes.
South Africa is the eighth-biggest wine producer globally and produces about 4% of the world’s wine. The wine industry contributes R36-billion to the country’s gross domestic product and employs nearly 290 000 people.