The wine industry is experiencing its most challenging season in history as early crop estimates show that losses could amount to around R700 million.

Over the next three months different cultivars of grapes will be harvested as the worst drought in a century drags on in the Western Cape. However, the wine producer representative body, VinPro, says there is no reason to throw in the towel yet as South African producers are known for their resilience and ability to adapt.

Early estimates are that this year’s crop could be the lowest since 2005.  It will result in lower volumes and less wine at higher prices.

South African wines are arguably among the best in the world and hold a 4 % share in the international market. It is small but the aim is to continually expand both locally and abroad and producers will have to make tough decisions.

“The spin off is going to be from a winery or an owner or a brand owner how you’re going to deal with that. I believe each and everyone sitting with a specific business model, sitting with specific markets, being in the local market or even in the export market, even if you’re in package or even in bulk, you need to say how I’m going to treat it in terms of you need to honour your contracts, you need to honour business relationships up until now, so that’s going to be a challenge,” said VinPro’s  Christo Conradie.

At one of the foremost Pinotage producers in the country, winemaker Anri Truter says it is a difficult balancing act. Plants are watered only when it shows stress through drip techniques.

Truter says he expects a lower crop for a third year in a row but the most crucial time will be after the harvest.

“Once you take off the grapes of the vineyards usually it show a lot of water stress after that so we just want to give it a bit of water to keep going until hopefully April, end of March until the rains come, that’s what we’re praying for . That’s why we keep some of the water, or most of it, back and just trying to manage the vineyards at the moment,” Truter said.

Truter says a lower crop could however still produce an outstanding wine.

However, the only thing that will ultimately restore balance in the industry is rain.