Wine industry faces another dry white season

According to Henk Bruwer, Chairman of Wine Cellars South Africa (WCSA), which represents the majority of local wine cellars, the drought is centred around white wine, of which a serious shortage has already arisen and will not be adequately replenished by this year's harvest.

'Due to the exhaustive drought experienced last year, the crop was 11% down on that of 2004 resulting in a colossal shortage of white wine for the domestic and export markets,' Bruwer said.

'At this stage the estimate for this season's harvest seems only 5% higher than last year, which indicates that the shortage of white wines will continue and in fact increase. There is simply not enough chenin blanc and sauvignon available for the industry's local and international client base, especially regarding the bulk category. One of the results hereof is that South African wine companies will continue to import cheap bulk white wines offered internationally from countries like Argentina to keep their clients supplied.' 

According to SAWIS, the information sector of the local wine industry, this year's crop is now estimated at 1 245 182 tons, of which 65% represents white wine grapes. In Bruwer's opinion the crop could be even smaller.

'I realise it is topical and newsworthy to blame power cuts for the shortage, but the fact remains that nature is once again placing pressure on the industry,' Bruwer said. 

'Just before and at the beginning of this year's harvest period, strong south easterly winds plagued the winelands. A further shortage of rain during this period caused the initial crop expectations, which predicted a much larger crop for last year, to drop,' said Bruwer. 'The quality is excellent, but the white wine drought will be a feature of the 2006 vintage.'

According to Bruwer, wine consumers will bear the brunt, as was the case in 2005 when white wine prices increased. Supply and demand will follow the logical route and therefore consumers will likely experience a price increase for white wines. This is unfortunate, since one of the major aims of the industry is to increase local consumption, which is hampered by price rises, Bruwer says.

'In spite of our country's annual economic growth of 5%, the consumption of wine remains static.'

He added that importers of white wine from countries such as Argentina should be cautious about what wines are bought from whom. 'The South African industry is geared to inform the buyer of the precise quality of the wine he is acquiring since the origin of the product can be traced back to the vineyard. Buying tanks of low priced wine from foreign countries does not allow one this same luxury, and care should be taken that brands which replace their South African wine content with foreign wines do not do so at expense of the brand's reputation.'

Although supplies of red wine at wine cellars are adequate, there has been a shortage of pinotage, the results of which will also be felt by consumers and wine companies.

'While we have a white wine desert, the red wine lake is at a healthy level,' Bruwer said. 'However, international forecasts indicate that a shortage of red wines will be felt within three to four years. WCSA is dedicated to co-operation with the South African cellars to encourage resourcefulness to capitalise on this situation.'

Issued by MediaVision on behalf of Wine Cellars SA