South Africa flags quality amid smaller harvest

close up of a bunch of white grapes

Trade organisations for the wine industry in South Africa have said the 2022 grape crop is down on the previous year.

According to the annual South African Wine Harvest Report, the 2022 vintage will “wow consumers with exceptional quality wines, albeit from a somewhat smaller grape crop than in 2021”.  

The 2022 wine grape crop is estimated at 1,378,737 tonnes, according to industry body SAWIS (South African Wine Industry Information & Systems). It is 5.5% smaller than the 2021 crop, but still larger than the five-year average of 1,346,024 tonnes.

“A cool season and moderate weather conditions in most regions during harvest time slowed down ripening, which gave vines the opportunity to develop stunning flavour and colour in this year’s wine grape crop,” said Conrad Schutte, consultation service manager of the wine industry body, Vinpro. Harvest time was delayed on average by 10 to 14 days.

The organisations said the smaller wine grape crop can be attributed to a decline in the overall vineyard area due to the uprooting of vineyards, disease pressure caused by untimely rainfall just before or during harvest time, and isolated cases of sunburn because of heatwaves in certain regions.

"Despite harvest 2022 being slightly more challenging for our winemakers, we have already had the opportunity to taste some of the first releases of white wines, which have shown superb quality and are likely to aid the premiumisation of the category,” added Siobhan Thompson, CEO of Wines of South Africa. “While we are still seeing a continued interest in South African Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, the continued challenges faced by exporters due to the global shipping chain constraints is somewhat of a dampener, which the industry hopes to mitigate in due time.”

Overview of regions

Breedekloof

The 2022 season was late and drawn out and will be remembered for extremes including a cool growing season and a sudden heat peak in February. The crop is likely to be slightly smaller than the record harvest in 2021.

Cape South Coast

Availability of water, in conjunction with ideal winter conditions, laid the foundation for an "exceptional season", despite challenges due to fungal pressure and cool, wet weather during summer months. The wine grape crop is expected to be somewhat larger than in 2021, the industry bodies said. 

Klein Karoo

The 2022 vintage in the Klein Karoo region will be remembered for its particularly late harvest and although the crop may be smaller than in 2021, producers expect good quality wines.

 Northern Cape

One of the toughest seasons in years for wine grape producers along the Orange River, characterised by above-average rainfall, high disease pressure and flood risks. Yields were much lower than normal, but producers remain hopeful that they will produce a larger crop in 2023, the trade organisations said. 

Olifants River

A challenging season due to high disease pressure, heatwaves, and uneven ripening, however "producers who followed good management practices, faced significantly fewer challenges and can boast with good yields". The region’s wine grape crop was smaller than in 2021.

Paarl

The 2022 vintage will be remembered for a cool season, followed by a sudden temperature spike from January, which contributed to a smaller wine grape crop than last year. "Where good vineyard practices were followed, vineyard blocks delivered exceptional grape analyses and wine quality," the trade groups said.

Robertson

Although smaller than the record crop of 2021, this vintage still boasts an "above-average yield and quality". The season was extremely drawn out with several challenges, but producers were fortunate to have sufficient irrigation water.

Stellenbosch

Ideal winter conditions that supplemented water reserves and contributed to even growth provided an "excellent foundation" for the 2022 crop, which is expected to be larger than the 2021 crop. "Judging by the quality of the wines that are currently in the cellars, the region anticipates another classic Stellenbosch vintage," the groups said.

Swartland

Harvest time started later than normal due to cool weather conditions until the end of December, followed by extremely hot weather during harvest time that accelerated ripening and placed pressure on cellar capacity. The average yield is lower than the previous year, but "promising wines" are under way.

Worcester

The 2022 harvest started later than normal due to a cool growing season. The crop was smaller than in 2021, but still above average for the region. Wine quality "seems promising" and consumers can "expect outstanding red wines".

The value of South African wine exports to the UK increased by 20% in 2021 according to SAWIS figures released earlier this year. Volumes in the UK rose 12%.

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