South Africa is unlikely to have a “normal vintage” until 2021 following an extended period of drought in the vineyards, according to a senior winemaker.

Izele van Blerk, winemaker at KWV, told DRN: “We’ve suffered almost four years of drought and this year was a particularly difficult harvest. I would say 2017 was probably the best vintage year for me making wine.

“There is a lot of rain at the moment but the effects of the drought will be felt for another harvest at least. Next year it will still all be flowing through and there will still be effects from the drought months. I think we will have a normal harvest with normal volumes in 2021.

“It has been really difficult. In the northern parts of South Africa, such as Johannesburg, they have had a lot of rain, but in the wine-producing areas it has been hard. People quickly adapted to the shortage of rain nd set up tanks and ways of catching any rainfall, but it was hard in the vineyards.

“We knew the recent harvest would be difficult so I went to the vineyards every other day to make tweaks where we could, and we were able to do things to help minimise the damage.

“The Shiraz grapes were the hardest hit, which I was surprised by. I thought they were more hardy and I thought the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot would be more sensitive, but it wasn’t the case.

“The Petit Verdot was hit by disease, though, as were all the late varieties.

“I have been working with Petit Verdot for a while. It can be hard to grow and it is very late ripening, so in Bordeaux it can struggle to reach optimal ripeness, but it can work very well in South Africa. It features as one of the single varietals in our The Mentors range, of which there are only eight wines in total. The Petit Verdot is one of the most popular wines in the range.

“It has good tannins and if you add 5% of Petit Verdot to any wine it makes it 10 times better in my opinion. But it’s not an easy grape. I write up the grape variety on the board when we are ready to sort the grapes but when it comes to this one I don’t write it up in advance because I know people won’t show up to work.

“There are so many small green berries and it’s hard to take these out, and the raisins and stems. Basically it normally takes 15 minutes to sort 500kg of grapes, but with Petit Verdot it is more like 45 minutes to an hour.

“It makes the most beautiful wines but I know it won’t be popular with my wine team when it comes to sorting the grapes.”