Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

SA’s wine grape producers are facing a smaller-than-expected harvest, due to the searing heat and drought, according to the wine producers’ body, VinPro. The country is in the throes of its worst drought since 1992, with the agricultural sector being hardest hit.

In the Western Cape, farm owners suffered major losses last week after runaway fires damaged orchards and vineyards near Stellenbosch. By Friday, about 2,500ha had been destroyed. Several farms lost part of their grape crops as the harvesting season gets under way.

SA’s nearly 100,000ha of vineyards generates about 3% of the world’s wine production, putting it in the top 10 largest producers. The grape harvesting season usually stretches from November to the end of April.

Francois Viljoen, manager of the VinPro consultation service, said on Friday: "Larger crops than in 2015 are expected in the Orange River and Klein Karoo, while the other wine grape-producing regions all predict a decrease to a greater or smaller extent.

"The heat and drought bring about lighter bunches and smaller berries — even in areas where producers have access to sufficient irrigation water. On the upside, the vineyards and grapes are very healthy. The smaller berries may also lead to good quality due to concentrated flavour and colour, should the berries ripen at an optimal level," Mr Viljoen said.

Western Cape economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde said the provincial government would conduct an assessment of the effect of the recent fires on the agriculture sector. "If the fire is under control and the smoke has subsided, the officials will be able to access the farms to conduct surveys."

The fires and the drought were putting pressure on the agriculture sector. "It is taking focus and manpower away from harvesting. This is going to have a major cost to our economy. The agriculture sector, with its backward link to agri-processing, is one of our key growth sectors," he said.