Meeting expectations of delivering one of the finest vintages in recent years

A 7,5% increase in total yield is forecast, equalling an estimated total of 1 160 715 tons with all the major wine growing regions contributing to the increase. One of the reasons for the general improvement in yield is the young Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Pinotage plantings that have come into production. The most marked improvements were in Stellenbosch and Paarl where production was up by 45,72% and 35,27% respectively on last year, when the crop had been adversely affected by downy mildew.

This year favourable weather conditions prevailed from planting right through to harvesting, and allowed the fruit to ripen slowly on the vine and develop optimal physiological ripeness with ideal sugar levels, good acids and prominent varietal flavours. 

In the Stellenbosch area, the average temperature for the four months December to March 2003 was 21,34ºC compared to 27,67ºC for the same period last year. Radiation during October was lower than usual with a lot more cloudy days. This, combined with the cooler ripening season and drier summer, resulted in smaller berries, with excellent skin to pulp ratios, giving good colour to this year's reds. However, the smaller berry set has led to a drop in the average recovery per ton from 750 - 800 litres to around 700 - 750 litres.

Stellenbosch and Paarl had substantially less rain in January and February this year than in 2002. Gone were the wet conditions preceding the 2002 harvest and the challenges posed by downy mildew. In its place were dry conditions that kept rot and mildew at bay. Relatively little inputs were required, and some producers have described it as 'almost an organic' year. . According to viticulturist Dricus van der Westhuizen, producers in Paarl benefited hugely from the big improvement in the weather.

Dryland vineyards were put under strain by the unusually dry growing season but given a reprieve by the advent of rains at the end of March. Although Stellenbosch had a relatively wet March, the rains did not cause significant damage. Kanonkop's Johan Krige says the rain actually provided the extra time needed for the grapes to ripen sufficiently in the vineyards.

Similar weather patterns - but with the addition of extraordinary flash floods in March - prevailed in the Robertson, Ashton and Montague areas. Despite initial fears, Breede River Valley vineyards suffered relatively little flood damage as most blocks had been harvested. A few vineyards were destroyed but most merely enjoyed a thorough irrigation before going into the next season. Van Loveren suffered the most damage to its cellar, while Zandvliet and two co-operative producers in Montague had one or two entire vineyards swept away. At Barrydale Wine Cellar, where the harvest begins and ends later than elsewhere, the delayed effect of the rain was felt with some vineyards waterlogged.

On balance, 2002 is expected to be a great vintage. Jan Boland Coetzee of Vriesenhof, says it may be the best in 25 years.

André Morgenthal, Communications Manager, Wines of South Africa (WOSA)
Tel: +27 (0) 21 883-3860