South African Wine Harvest Report 2020: Great Season, Remarkable Wines

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Wines of South Africa excited to showcase the exceptional new vintage

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“As an industry we are grateful and relieved to be able to resume exports. This finally enables us to showcase our exceptional new 2020 vintage wines to trade, media and consumers around the world.” - Siobhan Thompson, CEO of Wines of South Africa

South Africa’s 2020 wine grape crop will bring exceptional wines to consumers, following favorable conditions throughout the season. This according to the South African wine industry’s annual Wine Harvest Report 2020.

“Although it’s always important to take our diversity over 10 wine grape growing regions into account, the industry had a very good season overall, which we believe will bring great quality wines to consumers,” says Conrad Schutte, consultation service manager of the wine industry’s representative body Vinpro.

The 2020 wine grape crop is estimated at 1,487,991 tons, according to the latest estimate of industry body SAWIS (South African Wine Industry Information & Systems) on April 24, 2020. It is 8.2% larger than the 2019 harvest.

Weather conditions were favorable in general and the bunch numbers looked promising early in the season, but windy conditions during the set and sensitive berry growth stages resulted in smaller berries and a lighter crop. The season was also characterized by great variation between and even within the same vineyard blocks in areas that experienced dry conditions.

The Stellenbosch, Swartland, Cape South Coast, Paarl and Breedekloof regions all harvested more wine grapes than in 2019, with the Olifants River region almost returning to its normal production levels after being one of the regions hardest hit by the recent drought. The Klein Karoo region still struggles with the ongoing drought, also experienced in certain parts of the Robertson region, while frost damage resulted in great crop losses in the Northern Cape.

The COVID-19 scurry

Although the harvesting season kicked off around two weeks earlier than usual, the unexpected announcement of the COVID-19 lockdown, in effect from March 26, 2020, created a scurry among many producers to harvest the last grapes of the season and complete winemaking processes in cellars. Wine-related activities were initially prohibited, but Government made a last-minute concession which allowed for the harvesting and storage activities essential to prevent the wastage of primary agricultural goods during the lockdown. At the time, around 44,092 tons still needed to be harvested.

“With uncertainties during the announcement of the lockdown some producers decided to harvest the grapes without prejudice just to get it to the cellar, while others waited for optimal ripeness to ensure exceptional quality,” Conrad says.

Wine quality exceptional

“We are excited about the exceptional wines that will flow from the 2020 wine grape crop, with Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay leading the pack,” Conrad says. “The early cultivars showed very good acidity, and the color and tannin analyses in the red wines promise full wines with concentrated flavor profiles.”

The 2020 wine harvest – including juice and concentrate for non-alcoholic purposes, wine for brandy and distilling wine – is expected to amount to 276,377 gallons at an average recovery of 204.7 gallons per ton of grapes.

Ready to take our wines to the market

Following restrictions on both local sales and wine exports during South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown, the industry was relieved that Government allowed for the export of alcoholic products from May 1, 2020, including transport to ports and airports, as well as related activities to prepare wine for exports such as bottling and labeling.

“As an industry we are grateful and relieved to be able to resume exports. This finally enables us to showcase our exceptional new 2020 vintage wines to trade, media and consumers around the world,” comments Siobhan Thompson, CEO of Wines of South Africa.

She continues, “We would like to thank all of our international networks of agents, importers and friends who have never wavered in their support of our wine and our people, despite the challenges we’ve faced as an industry.”

South Africa is the ninth biggest wine producer worldwide and produces about 3.3% of the world’s wine. The wine industry contributes $1.95 billion to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs nearly 300,000 people.

2019/20 Growing season

Most regions experienced a better post-harvest period than previous years. The leaves fell around the same time or later than usual, vines were healthier and producers had access to post-harvest irrigation water.

Sufficient cold units were accumulated during the winter to break dormancy, while rainfall varied across regions but was mostly below average.

With spring came mostly favorable conditions, which contributed to a somewhat earlier but even budbreak. The early growing season was especially known for good, homogenous shoot growth.

During summer, temperatures were moderate during the ripening period, with the absence of characteristic heat peaks. These conditions particularly bode well for the flavor retention in the grapes. Rainfall during the ripening period relieved pressure on water resources in some regions, while it resulted in a surge in diseases (downy mildew, sour rot and botrytis) and necessitated proper weed control in other areas.

Overview of regions:

Breedekloof
Slightly larger crop than in 2019, mainly driven by the occurrence of wind during berry growth, which had a negative effect on flowering and set.

Cape South Coast
Better yields than the previous season, thanks to favorable climatic conditions, the implementation of Guyot pruning systems, utilization of chemicals to break dormancy and amendments to fertilization programs.

Klein Karoo
Yet another small crop due to the ongoing drought and a shrinking area under vines.

Northern Cape
Lower than expected production, due to severe frost experienced at the end of October in the lower lying areas east of Upington.

Olifants River
A great year as vines are recovering well following the drought and the region had better water supplies than during the previous season.

Paarl
A better crop than in 2019, owing to beneficial post-harvest conditions, sufficient water for irrigation and moderate temperatures during ripening.

Robertson
Smaller yields due to water shortages in certain parts of the region, as well as smaller berries caused by wind during set, a decline in new plantings and the occurrence of botrytis and sour rot following rain in January.

Stellenbosch
A bigger wine grape crop than in 2019, thanks to good reserves being accumulated in the post-harvest period, rain during critical berry growth stages and moderate climate throughout the growing season.

Swartland
Bigger yields than in 2019, characterized by good bunch figures thanks to good post-harvest and winter conditions. Soil profiles were also supplemented well through late winter rainfall.

Worcester
Varying yields throughout the region, with producers recording a somewhat larger crop than in 2019.

See https://vinpro.co.za/ for the full harvest report per region.

About Wines of South Africa
Wines of South Africa (WOSA) is the organization representing all South African producers of wine who export their products. WOSA, which was established in its current form in 1999, has over 500 exporters on its database, comprising all the major South African wine exporters. It is constituted as a not-for-profit company and is totally independent of any producer, wholesaling company or government department but is recognized by the South African Export Council. WOSA's mandate is to promote the export of all South African wines in key international markets including the United States.

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Erin Healy
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