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business of wine, Wine

Is South Africa running out of #wine?

South African Wineries Will Face Grape Shortage in 5 Years, Producer Says

By Lauren van der Westhuizen

The South African wine industry will face a shortage of grapes within five years as growers reduce the acreage they cultivate, according to Distell Group Ltd. (DST), the country’s biggest wine and liquor producer.

The country’s industry has oversupplied the market, particularly with red grapes and wine, for the last five years, said Erhard Wolf, Distell’s general manager for grape and wine supply. During the peak of vineyard planting, a “very optimistic view” of potential markets was taken, resulting in more vineyards being cultivated than were required, he said.

“Vineyards are being removed and not renewed,” Wolf said in a phone interview on May 13 from Stellenbosch, in South Africa’s main wine region. “At this stage, even though we have a slight oversupply, in a period of five years we will probably be going into a shortage of supply.”

South Africa had 101,016 hectares (249,509 acres) of vineyards in 2010, compared with 102,146 hectares in 2006, according to South African Wine Information Systems, which represents all the country’s wine producers. Since 2005, the country’s industry has failed to replace about 5,000 hectares of existing vineyards annually, according to Sawis.

Oversupply is affecting other wine-producing countries, Wolf said. Australia should remove about a quarter of its vineyards to balance supply and demand, he said.

Climate change may also affect some parts of South Africa now considered ideal for grape production, like Darling and Elgin in the country’s Western Cape Province, Wolf said.

Distell, which produces about a third of South Africa’s wines and sparkling wines, reaped a grape crop this year that was 8 percent smaller than a year earlier because of higher- than-average temperatures in February and March, he said.

Climate Change

“Climate change is something that we’ve been positioning ourselves for, for at least a good five years since the very early indications,” Wolf said.

Based on studies of weather patterns and long-term climatic data, Distell has selected “non-traditional areas” where new vineyards could be planted, he said. The company is also evaluating new cultivars, including varieties of the white grape pinot gris and the purple grapemalbec, which are enjoying “substantial” popularity both locally and abroad, Wolf said.

Additional measures are being taken to breed grapes that are resistant to fungal diseases caused by damp weather. South Africa’s wine producers expect flooding, fungus and disease to cut the grape crop this season, SAWIS, representing all the country’s wine producers, said in a February statement.

Distell is collaborating with a German research institute to test about 20 varieties of naturally disease-resistant grapes that don’t have to be sprayed with pesticides, Wolf said.

South Africa is the world’s seventh-largest wine producer, accounting for 3 percent of world production, according to SAWIS.

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