South Africa’s 2019 wine harvest is smallest for 14 years

Drought’s long shadow means that South Africa has likely seen its smallest wine harvest for 14 years in 2019, but there are reports of promising quality in several regions.

South Africa’s 2019 wine harvest is set to go down as the smallest since 2005, with projected volumes of just over 1.2m tonnes of grapes.

That is 1.4% down on 2018, according to consultancy group Vinpro, which said it had been a ‘trying year’ due to the after-effects of drought, plus ongoing dry conditions in some areas and then wet weather at the end of the growing season.

How drought has still cast a shadow on 2019 yields

‘The drought was still lingering during the post-harvest period, which meant many producers couldn’t apply crucial post-harvest irrigation,’ said Francois Viljoen, viticultural consultation service manager at Vinpro.

‘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.’

Stellenbosch was among the regions worst-hit in quantity terms, according to Vinpro, along with Klein Karoo – which saw continued drought and hail damage – plus Olifants River.

Quality: Chenin shines in Stellenbosch

Vinpro said that rain and cool conditions in some South African regions at the end of February and early March hampered some later ripening red grape varieties, which had relatively low sugar levels.

But, it added that there was optimism around 2019 quality in several areas.

Jacques de Klerk, director of viticulture and winemaking at Radford Dale, said that in Stellenbosch ‘very small crops were seen from Chardonnay this year. On the upside, it was a stellar year for Chenin Blanc.

‘The cool daytime conditions (and especially nights!) of December and January meant that our earlier varieties ripened with lovely acidity and great freshness, all at lower alcohol levels.’

There was also confidence in Swartland, despite another year of low rainfall. ‘Tiny bunches and berries again meant lots of concentration and the wines are packed full of flavour as a result,’ said de Klerk in a harvest report.

He was also upbeat about quality nearer to the coast, including Pinot Noir in Elgin and both Pinot and Chenin in Walker Bay, where grapes ripened evenly and slowly.

Of the Hemel-en-Aarde area within the Walker Bay region, he added, ‘2019 seemed to bring the exact conditions that have made the region famous for its Pinot Noir; warm days and cool nights, all moderated by the maritime influence of the ocean.’