Patience in Mzansi’s wine industry was wearing thin amid challenges of grapes ripening slower and the harvest kicking off two weeks later than usual. With the release of the South African Wine Harvest Report 2021, however, there appears to be a silver lining.
The 2021 wine grape crop is estimated at 1 461 599 tonnes, which is 8.9% larger than the 2020 harvest. And according to wine industry body Vinpro, wine lovers from across the globe can enjoy outstanding wines from a much cooler and later 2021 wine grape season.
Vinpro’s consultation service manager, Conrad Schutte, says vines seem to have taken their time to “prepare” this year’s harvest. “Moderate weather throughout the season, and specifically during harvest time, resulted in grapes ripening slower, while developing exceptional colour and flavour.”
A perfect storm
The local wine industry had their work cut out.
First, the harvest kicked off around two weeks later than normal due to unusually cool weather conditions throughout the season. This persisted throughout harvest time and resulted in some wine grape producers harvesting their last grapes in May.
Then, water resources had to be replenished in most regions following the recent drought. This, however, the industry says contributed to good vine growth, bunch numbers and berry sizes.
Schutte states while these are general observations, it is always important to take the wine industry’s diversity over ten wine grape growing regions into account.
Furthermore, according to Schutte cooler weather conditions enabled producers to harvest their grapes at exactly the right time.
“Viticulturists and winemakers are especially excited about good colour extraction, low pH levels and high natural acidity in cases where vineyards were managed effectively, which all point to exceptional quality wines,” he states.
Higher wine exports
CEO of Wines of South Africa, Siobhan Thompson, says they are delighted that the 2021 harvest proved to be somewhat of a silver lining for the wine industry. This will further boost Mzansi’s international positioning.
Thompson says, “What stands out above all else is the consistency in quality that we have come to see over recent years. This will go a long way to convincing those who may still have been on the fence and reinforce our overall standing alongside our international competitors.
“It is also very promising to note that the volume and value of wine exports from South Africa are higher compared to the year-on-year figures in 2020 and 2019.”
Industry needs to strike a balance
Meanwhile, Vinpro’s managing director, Rico Basson, warns that following the wine harvest, careful planning lies ahead for producers and wineries.
Intermittent restrictions on the export and local sale of alcohol from March 2020 to February 2021 as part of Covid-19 restrictions resulted in 650 million litres of wine stock at the end of 2020.
A large portion of it had not yet been contracted.
Basson says, “With so much stock still in the tanks at the beginning of harvest time, producers and wineries were concerned about processing and storage capacity when taking in the new harvest, many of whom rented additional storage space or restored old tanks.”
However, the fact that sales reopened, along with the harvest starting later than normal, helped ease the pressure to some extent.
A number of wineries were also able to secure contracts with grape juice manufacturers, which helped work away some of the stock.
“The larger wine grape crop will require careful planning from producers and wineries to sell the current wine stock in a responsible and sustainable way. This situation will, however, also create the opportunity for innovation and growth of existing and new markets,” Basson says.