Small Volume, Big League

The 2023 SA wine grape harvest is expected to be smaller than last year. While the decline is nothing drastic, it is supposed to be the fourth smallest in the past 17 years and in an industry with exceptionally tight margins, economy of scale is always important. But lower volumes might have a positive impact on pricing, something that is crucial from a seller’s perspective if you consider that 38% of wine farms operate at a loss. How important is the size of the harvest though, and what other expectations do we have of the 2023 vintage?

Vinpro, the SA wine industry body, estimates the current harvest to be 6% down on the previous vintage. (Read more) In general this is a result of:

  • Dryish conditions with less water for irrigation due to lower winter rains and snow. (The Northern Cape vineyards are an exception here with better rains.)
  • Hale in some of the biggest wine regions – Paarl, Robertson and Worcester.
  • Disease, especially powdery mildew, after the thunderstorms we experienced in early December.
  • Less irrigation due to load shedding.
  • Sunburn from the heat spikes in late December and early January.
  • The trend of more vineyards being uprooted than planted.

Other than being smaller, the 2023 harvest is expected to be more expensive than previous years. South Africans might have become used to inflation but rising labour cost and the drastic increase in the price of amongst others, fertilisers and diesel, will have a definite impact on production cost this season. No wonder that Agriculture is putting pressure on Government about the 18% electricity price increase announced by Eskom earlier this year. The unreliability of power supply will be a big challenge this season. Planning and adapting are essential to the pressing season, but load shedding uncertainty makes that a real challenge. (Watch: Rolling blackouts cripple Western Cape Agricultural Exports)

With a value-driven focus from both WOSA and Vinpro, is volume that important? At last week’s industry day,  Vinpro’s Rico Basson shared his dream that by 2030, SA wine production will not be able to fulfil volume expectations at the lower end and that we will be importing Spanish wine to fill bag in box demand. The long-term focus is on value and producing premium wines at more sustainable prices. Making ends meet in the meantime, is of course the challenge.

Such a premium focus should perhaps make quality more important than volume. Although it is still early to remark on the quality of the 2023 vintage, there is reason for optimism after a decent winter. At La Motte we were lucky to escape exceptional dry conditions and hale. Vineyard canopies protected bunches from sun damage and although temperatures were high, we had fewer spikes and enough water to ensure heat resistance. Timeous intervention with powdery mildew kept disease at bay and the grapes are healthy. We are happy with the sugar and acid analysis up to this point and Cellarmaster Edmund Terblanche is especially happy with the flavour concentration. Yields on La Motte seem slightly better than industry predictions. With Chardonnay and Pinot Noir destined for MCC already in the cellar, we have capitalised on the welcome respite from the heat this week to start with the harvest of our 2023 Sauvignon Blanc.

Although the harvest started two weeks earlier than expected, our vineyard and cellar teams are ready and we’re delighted to have a harvest hand from Germany bringing a different accent and sense of humour to the winery.

The anticipation of harvest time is tangible in the Franschhoek Wine Valley and I know it is something we share with all the other wine growing areas. Let’s capitalise on the positive energy, hope for some Eskom efficiency and enjoy the charm of the season as well as the exceptional product we are lucky enough to work with every day. Wishing everyone a successful harvest!

Featured image: With me at the annual La Motte Blessing of the Harvest Ceremony were Joeline, Brian, Liezl, Ashwill, Ashrick, Nigel and Marika from our teams in the vineyards, cellar and kitchen.

Article shared from HeinonWine by La Motte CEO Hein Koegelenberg.

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