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Humble harvests for South Africa’s wine industry, but high quality

They’re not yet rationing pinotage in South Africa exactly, but the country’s 3,000-plus grape growers certainly can feel some of the pain of a drought that has pushed nearby Cape Town into a state of emergency. The 2018 harvest, now under way, is projected to be significantly smaller because of depleted groundwaters and precariously low dam levels that have choked irrigation supplies.

In the quality regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Swartland, “we’re looking at a diminished crop of probably 20 per cent – much smaller berries, much smaller bunches,” Marc Kent, winemaker and managing shareholder of Boekenhoutskloof, told me over the phone. In the worst-hit areas, he added, the number could be closer to 40 per cent. And that’s on top of two already light crops since the rains began tapering off seriously in 2015.

Kent says the situation has exacerbated years of pain for many growers, who have been grappling with sharply rising labour, utility and other costs. “It hasn’t been too exciting in terms of the returns [on investment],” he said. “It’s already been under pressure for economic reasons. Now, coupled with the drought, it’s difficult.”


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