How the world aided South Africa's wine trade

And now, after several years of slimmer pickings, the 2021 harvest has proved to be of decent size and excellent quality.

“This year was the first year following the drought in 2015-2018 that our yield was back to a normal level, so we needed some positivity, even though there were some producers that had to resort to some interesting measures to play wine Tetris in their cellars,” says Maryna Calow, communications manager at Wines of South Africa. 

But while the promise of quality wine is certainly a positive one, it does create a set of specific problems for a region still on its knees. 

“We are very happy with the quality of the 2021 harvest, for us the quality of the harvest far outweighs in importance the size,” says Taylor. “A bumper quality harvest will only be beneficial to the industry if there’s increased demand for the wines and a market to sell them to, otherwise it means increased production costs, and more warehousing needed to store it all.” 

And there’s still the question of what to do with the stocks of wine that producers have been unable to shift.

“The problem that some producers have is that a lot of producers are sitting on a lot of stock that they were unable to sell in 2020 and in some cases 2019,” says Nik Darlington, marketing director at independent importer Graft Wine Company. “With all this wine sit- ting there needing to be sold, and with a limited amount able to be turned into grape distillate, a lot will probably be thrown away. 

“The overall health of the industry is still in the balance. There are a lot of producers still not making any money. According to Vinpro, about 40% are breaking even, 40% are making a loss and the rest are making varying amounts of profit. When you’ve got a situation where people aren’t making the economics of grape-growing add up, a couple of years of under-supply was actually quite good because it pushed the price of grapes up.” 


But as South Africa looks for opportunities in the market, recent climatological events that rocked wine growers in much of Europe and beyond could prove to be advantageous. 

“While we do not revel in the misfortune of wine producers in France, Italy, Spain, California and New Zealand, we do see this as an opportunity to supply our top-quality wine to buyers,” says Calow. 

Darlington agrees. “There is a very high-profile opportunity with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. When retailers run out, there’s nowhere better placed stylistically to look than South Africa. But it seems like this will only be a one-year blip for New Zealand, so it may only be a one-year opportunity for South Africa Sauvignon Blanc producers.” 

The situation remains difficult at every layer of the South African wine industry, but green shoots of normality are beginning to emerge. 

With Covid-19 cases seemingly under control for the time being, South Africa’s border is open to international visitors and recently it has been taken off the UK travel red list. This means the country can by visited again by fully- vaccinated tourists from the UK looking for winter sun without having to quarantine on return home. 

Wines of South Africa has also announced that, after two years of cancellations, the Cape Wine show is scheduled to go ahead in Cape Town in October 2022, welcoming a global audience. And, while it will take more than a trade show to restore the region and October 2022 is a way off and some South African wine producers will inevitably be forced to close by then, it does offer the Cape a glimmer of hope that there is a version of normality on the horizon.