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Natural Causes
Published:  07 December, 2017

Despite being in the grip of drought, South Africa’s wineries are continuing to create excitement with innovation, diversity and tourism. by Christian Davis

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AT THE TIME OF WRITING, the wild fires in northern California had killed more than 40 people and destroyed some 3,500 buildings and homes, along with more than 68,800ha. Napa Valley Vintners’ association has reported that 47 of its member wineries have sustained direct damage. So it could be years before large tracts of Sonoma county and Napa valley are producing commercial quantities of grapes for winemaking.

Chile and Mexico have been rocked by earthquakes, the Caribbean blasted by hurricanes and Australia has had its fair share of wildfires.

So by comparison, South Africa has had it easy. Just a drought. Well, Rupert St Aubyn of Southern Wines, which represents Vondeling Wines from the Paardeberg region, tells Drinks International: “We are in the middle of the worst drought for about 20 years. It’s a shocker and it will affect production. But that is the same of almost all [wine-producing] countries. Prices are going to have to come up.”

Vinpro – a non-profit company which represents 2,500 South African wine producers, cellars and industry stakeholders – puts a more positive spin on South Africa’s predicament. The company liaises with government and industry on issues that have an impact on the profitability and sustainability of its members and the industry as a whole. It keeps members and the broader industry informed of trends and technical expertise and offers specialist services, ranging from soil science to viticulture, agricultural economics and transformation and development.

It says: “The Western Cape has received 30% less rainfall this winter than is considered to be needed and dam levels are currently at 35%, compared to 62% this time last year.

“Due to innovative production practices and a diversified geographic production area, the drought did not have a significant impact on the total volume of the 2017 harvest, except for a smaller harvest compared to long-term averages. It is too early to predict any impact on the 2018 harvest, though current conditions suggest it will also be smaller than average.

“The majority of our producers adhere to strict water management and many have already made adjustments towards more efficiency with new ideas to store, recycle and save water. The industry is working towards further technological developments and practices to save water and improve infrastructure,” Vinpro adds.

Chief executive of Wines of South Africa Siobhan Thompson says: “South Africa’s growers are facing drought, which is now moving into its third season, and low profit margins which do not allow for reinvestment in vineyards and people. A devalued currency also makes for challenges as brand building in overseas markets becomes more expensive.

“South Africa is now proving it can make world-class wines in a diverse range of styles and flavour profiles. The country has a varied terroir due to the climatic and geographical influences, with mountain ranges and two oceans creating a unique environment to make wine, stylistically somewhere between the Old and New Worlds,” says Thompson