May 8, 2018 / 12:40 PM / 19 days ago

Historic drought takes toll on South Africa's vineyards

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The worst drought in living memory has hit vineyards in South Africa’s Western Cape hard, reducing grape harvests and adding to pressure on the region’s centuries-old wine industry, officials said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Vineyards are seen near Cape Town, South Africa, February 3, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

In its latest wine harvest report, industry body Vinpro said South Africa’s wine-grape production was down 15 percent from last year, and would lead to a production shortfall of 170 million liters of wine and prices rising as much as 11 percent.

South Africa’s wine sector, which dates back to the arrival of the first European settlers in the 1650s, employs 300,000 people directly and indirectly and contributed about $3 billion to the economy in 2015, according to an industry study.

FILE PHOTO: Workers harvest grapes at the La Motte wine farm in Franschhoek near Cape Town, South Africa, January 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

The government has declared the drought a disaster in the Western Cape, the country’s main wine-producing region around the tourist city of Cape Town. Besides vineyards, it has decimated wheat crops and cut apple, grape and pear exports, most of which go to Europe.

FILE PHOTO: A worker loads wine bottles onto a conveyer belt at the Rostberg bottling plant near Cape Town, November 29, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

Vinpro managing director Rico Basson said more than a third of vineyards were operating at a loss and overall numbers were shrinking as farmers uprooted vines to make way for more profitable fruit crops or simply failed to replace old vines.

Over the last decade, the amount of land used for growing grapes had shrunk by 9 percent, he said.

The problems in South Africa mirror those in other wine-growing countries and are likely to fuel concerns about changes in weather patterns as a result of global warming.

Globally, wine output fell to its lowest in 60 years last year due to unfavorable weather, especially in Europe, according to the international wine organization OIV.

In April, the OIV said South Africa, the world’s eighth largest producer, had produced 1.1 billion liters of wine in 2017, a 3 percent increase on the previous year.

The Western Cape’s historic vineyards, nestled in mountains to the east of Cape Town, are a major draw for tourists, with tens of thousands of overseas visitors enjoying tours and tastings every year.

Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Ed Cropley and Andrew Roche

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