The 2016 harvest has gone and it’s time to reflect on this difficult season.
The season will be remembered as being relentlessly hot and dry, with vines being pushed to their utmost limits. Nonetheless, the vines coped well and produced some beautiful Chenin blancs and Shiraz.
South Africa is a semi-arid country and water will become even scarcer in the future. The irrigation capacity on most farms were greatly limited for the 2015/2016 growing season, with dam levels the lowest in decades. The dams providing water to the greater Swartland region is currently at 20.5%. The dams providing water to the Bo-Berg region (Paarl, Wellington, Franschhoek, Paardeberg) is currently at 26.3% and 36.6%. Most farms didn’t have the capacity to irrigate after harvest, which will have an immediate impact on the 2016/2017 growing season. Good winter rainfall is needed to supplement the soil and to fill dams to capacity in order for the Coastal region to be able to produce another quality crop for 2017.
I think South African wine producers must be vigilant towards soil moisture management. Cover crops, mulching and weed management must be of utmost importance. Unnecessary use of disc equipment during the growing season must be avoided by all means.
Vineyard canopies that had weak growth just couldn’t ripen the grapes effectively and focus should be on getting proper size canopies early on in the season, when soil moisture is still readily available.
Further more, in such dry conditions you should be cautious not to sucker dryland vines to hard, as with the little moisture available you will not have the canopy growth you are used to and grapes might be too exposed to the direct sunlight. Our strategy with our dryland bushvines was to keep an extra shoot on the bearing arm, for a bit of shade and to have more leaves to help with photosynthesis and it worked perfectly, especially on the old Cinsaut blocks.
I saw some terrible examples of bad canopy management in die Darling region, which led to overexposed grapes and too little leaf area with disastrous results.
One aspect that stood out in this relentless 2016 year, was the resilience of the grape vine and its ability to recover. Soil plays an integral part in the buffer capacity of a vineyards (its ability to overcome difficult circumstances) Deep, fertile and well managed soils proved to be the deciding factor in the vines recovery after the long and continues heat spell, producing good fruit in this difficult year.
All-in-all the season was short and the yield was down by almost 25%, but the wines look surprisingly good, with Chenin blanc and Shiraz definitely standing out in terms of quality in this difficult season.