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In the run-up to the 2023 wine grape harvest season of January to April, the fourth estimate by viticulturists and producer cellars indicates a smaller crop than that of 2022. It is smaller than the previous three estimates published during the 2023 harvest season.
“The harvest is predicted to be smaller than the 2022 harvest. Winemakers and viticulturists are in agreement that the excellent quality grapes hold a big promise for the making of remarkable wines,” says Conrad Schutte, manager of the Vinpro team of viticulturists that issues the crop estimate in collaboration with the South African Wine Industry Information and Systems organization (SAWIS).
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The run-up to the season was characterised by a warm and dry winter with warmer average temperatures than usual across all wine-producing regions, and the rainfall was significantly less, except for the Northern Cape. Budding occurred earlier, and evenness was satisfactory. Strong growth, driven by optimal photosynthesis and drier soil conditions, affected set negatively in certain areas. Especially Colombar and Cabernet Sauvignon bunches appear looser at this stage.
The welcome rain during the first week of December brought great relief and eased pressure on irrigation scheduling. However, it increased fungal disease pressure, particularly powdery and downy mildew. The South African wine industry is spread over a wide geographical area. The different climates and terrains have a significant effect on the size of the harvest. With all three previous 2023 crop estimates, all regions except the Klein-Karoo were estimated lower than 2022. However, with this new estimate, all regions are now estimated downward compared to 2022’s total yield.
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Factors that affect yield
The decrease in the estimate is attributed to various challenges South African wine grape producers had to face, such as Eskom loadshedding, which hampers irrigation pumps in intensive irrigation areas. Together with the dry winter and spring conditions, it led to smaller berry sizes with a lower harvest weight.
Later cultivars such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Colombar are currently being harvested, and as the bunches are weighed, the effect of poor setting is seen with lighter bunch weights. The uprooting of vineyards in the Northern Cape, Olifants River, and in particular, the Swartland regions, also caused the total area of the industry to shrink. Furthermore, rain showers during the ripening period, especially the heavy rains of the first and second week of March, brought more challenges.
“The climate over the next few weeks is crucial and can still affect crop size. It is now important to open fruit zones judiciously so that air and light movement takes place optimally during these challenging conditions with high disease pressure,” says Schutte. The fifth crop estimate by viticulturists and producer cellars will be released in May. – Press release, Vinpro