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Wine industry seeks new cultivars to cope with drought

Jan 21 2016 15:01
Carin Smith

Cape Town – Climate impacts like increasing heat and water constraints are prompting VinPro, a service organisation for wine producers and cellar members, to look for cultivars and roots which are more heat resistant and use less water.

According to Francois Viljoen, manager of consultation service at VinPro, these kinds of cultivars do exist in South Africa and the organisation is looking into what they could offer the wine industry.

“The SA viticulture industry is also working closely with local and international researchers to get the best advice on cutting edge technology that can be used to address challenges,” Viljoen said at the Nedbank VinPro information day on Thursday.

On the other hand, he pointed out that since 2003 the planting of wine grapes has declined. Since 2007 uprootings have exceeded plantings in the industry. The average plantings have declined by about 350 hectares per year.

Despite this trend, the wine grape industry has managed to produce record crops over the last number of years.

Viljoen said the wine grape industry started its current season (in spring 2015) with dams already only half full.

“El Nino brought nice holiday weather, but it was not good for us,” said Viljoen.

Load shedding for grapes

“We have now already had so many days with temperatures above 35 degrees – even since October 2015. The problem is that at temperatures above 35 degrees, the vine goes into shutdown mode in order to protect itself from collapse – just like Eskom load shedding.”

And if the impact of the heat is not enough, the issue of water has been added. At this stage Viljoen estimates that crop bunches are lighter and berries are smaller.

While a good harvest is expected in the Northern Cape, the Swartland region has been impacted the most by the drought. In the Paarl and Stellenbosch areas a considerable decline in crop harvest is expected due to the drought and the heat. In these two regions there have also been a considerable drop in new planting of wine grapes.

“There are still good things in the industry, though,” emphasised Viljoen. “There are vineyards which are looking good and had enough water. This brings the opportunity to make good wines and wines with a lower alcohol content – something marketers tell us the market wants.”

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wine  |  sa economy  |  agribusiness

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