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South African wine industry adapts to 2024 harvest challenges

Published:  20 May, 2024

The 2024 harvest season in South Africa has tested the resilience of its wine industry, with producers navigating various climatic challenges.

Despite facing frost, heavy winter rainfall, floods and strong winds, the dry conditions during harvest are said to promise wines of ‘high quality’ for both domestic and over 120 international markets.

“Excellent winter conditions in most wine-grape growing regions raised expectations for the harvest,” said Dr Etienne Terblanche, Vinpro consultation services manager. “However, the most significant impact of the spring conditions was the prolonged wet soils, which directly affected root systems and access to necessary plant reserves. The summer trend was markedly warmer and drier than the previous year, adding another layer of complexity to the harvest. One of the standout aspects of this season was the exceptional sanitary condition of the grapes – a rarity in rainy harvest seasons and a testament to the industry’s resilience and adaptability.”

The 2024 grape harvest yielded 1,099,051 tonnes from 87,848ha, a 7% decrease from 2023, according to SAWIS. This, combined with strong market demand, has balanced the industry’s wine stock levels, unlike some competitors who face a surplus and drastic measures like uprooting vineyards. Lower volumes create cost pressures, but they also support the sector’s commitment to value growth.

The total wine harvest, including juice and concentrate for non-alcoholic purposes, wine for brandy and distilling, is estimated at 857m litres, with a recovery rate of 780 litres per tonne of grapes.

Early cultivars had lighter yields across most regions, while later red cultivars generally improved. Winemakers are optimistic about the overall quality, especially full-bodied red wines with excellent colour and tannin extraction. White wines are expected to be fresh with ample texture.

“The 2023/2024 season showcased the South African wine industry's resilience and determination,” said South African Wine CEO Rico Basson. “Our wine stock is now balanced, and we are prepared to supply exceptional quality and distinctive wines globally.”

South Africa is the world’s seventh-largest wine producer, contributing about 4% of the world’s wine. The industry adds more than R56.5bn to the country’s GDP and employs 270,364 people across the value chain, including 85,962 on farms and in cellars.

“The 2024 harvest underscores South Africa’s commitment to showcasing its world-class wines,” said Siobhan Thompson, Wines of South Africa CEO. “This success strengthens our position in the global market and supports our efforts to increase our export market share.”

“The South African wine industry is shifting focus to value growth through reinvestment and collaboration, aiming for a future of quality, innovation, and sustainability,” added Basson.

Regional Production Highlights

Breedekloof: Optimal grape analyses and good colour in red wines.

Cape South Coast: Healthy grapes due to low rainfall during harvest, with good quality despite lower juice recoveries.

Cape Town: Good flavour intensity in white wines and promising colour development in red wines.

Klein Karoo: High rainfall and good wine quality, highlighting the importance of rainfall timing.

Northern Cape: Riper, tropical wine profile with better-than-expected quality in red cultivars.

Olifants River: Despite flood damage, yields matched the previous season, with disease control methods improving wine quality.

Paarl: A wet and cold winter followed by a hot January affected crop size, but the region saw good variation in yields and wine quality.

Robertson: High humidity challenged early cultivars, but overall grape health and wine quality were good.

Stellenbosch: Significant early rainfall followed by a dry summer led to lighter yields for early cultivars, but good grape quality.

Swartland: Despite a lighter yield, the quality of grapes was good, especially for red wines.

Worcester: Optimal ripeness and sugar levels in most grapes, with improved colour development in red cultivars. New plantings are enhancing the region’s red wine output.