Cape Winemakers Guild

With lower-than-average rainfall, skyrocketing consumer costs and load shedding schedules ranging between Stages 4 and 6, the 2023 harvest has been particularly challenging for South African winemakers.

However, as the old Afrikaans adage, “‘n Boer maak ‘n plan” (a farmer makes a plan) suggests, seeking solutions and focusing on innovative ways to navigate difficult circumstances has always been the backbone of this resilient industry.

As harvest draws to a close, the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) asked three of its members to reflect on the season that was and cast a predictive eye toward the future. Gary Jordan, owner of and winemaker at Jordan Wine Estate in Stellenbosch; Carel Nel, owner of and sixth-generation winemaker at Boplaas Family Vineyards in Calitzdorp; and Carl Schultz, cellarmaster at Hartenberg Estate in Stellenbosch, all agree that – despite efforts to mitigate power outages – load shedding presented significant challenges over the past few months.

“The frequent power outages have made it particularly challenging to maintain consistent temperatures in the cellar,” says Nel. “As a result, the winery has had to take extra precautions to ensure that our cooling units are operational following every load shedding, both during the day and at night.”

Jordan adds: “Load shedding-wise, we have had back-up generators for many years but even though we have solar power at Jordan Wine Estate, Stage 4 and 6 this past year has added hundreds of thousands of Rands in unnecessary extra diesel costs, now considerably higher since the worldwide energy crisis.”

Renewable energy

With no immediate end in sight for South Africa’s electricity woes, it is imperative that wineries invest in renewable energy.

“Without a doubt, renewable energy sources need to play a major role in the future of our wine industry. In the medium to long term, these sources will be leveraged at provincial level (Western Cape), but for immediate effect, many of us have started private investments in the use of solar energy and in some cases, its related lithium battery technology,” says Schultz, adding that Hartenberg has just embarked on a big solar and inverter project that would make the estate independent of the grid.

“The ability to be ‘off–grid,’ if necessary, would quite possibly be essential in the future, allowing small businesses to fully function in a cost-effective, independent fashion.”

Similarly, a first phase of 296 solar panels has been installed at Jordan Wine Estate so far, resulting in around 165 KW of power to run the whole winery, offices, tasting room and two restaurants.

The next phase entails obtaining batteries that can store power for use at night.

“This will mean that solar-generated power gets used first, followed by battery-stored back-up power, followed by generators as a last resort,” explains Jordan. “An abundance of sun for solar power generation is just one advantage we have over many countries.”

Jordan advises fellow wine farmers to make the switch to green energy as soon as possible and to factor in the need for batteries to minimise the use of expensive and eco-unfriendly diesel generators.

Conservation and regeneration

Apart from investing in renewable energy, Schultz, Nel and Jordan agree that working with nature, instead of against it, is essential in future-proofing any wine business.

As Schultz points out, “Climate change is the slow poison of our time.”

He cites Hartenberg owners, the Mackenzie family’s philosophy of leaving the property in a better condition than in which they found it as the driving force behind their implementation of sustainable farming practices. These include a closed water system where cellar-, domestic grey- and black water is purified and reused for vineyard irrigation when needed, the use of organic fertilisers, and soil conservation through renewable viticulture.

“This is done through the controlled grazing of cattle between vineyard rows and ensuring a healthy annual sowing of not just one (as has long been the tradition), but multiple cover crops, thereby increasing soil microbe diversity and an avoidance of the negative effects of monoculture.”

At Boplaas, the Nel family is passionate about conserving the biodiversity in their corner of Klein Karoo, which is home to more plant species than the whole of Europe* . Twenty years ago, they purchased 2 200 hectares of pristine Karoo land densely populated by spekboom, to ensure that a piece of this unique habitat remains untouched for future generations.

“With over 5 000 hectares of spekboom veld, we are able to sequester three times more CO2 than we produce, making us carbon negative,” says Nel. This is a great example of how businesses can take action to reduce their impact on the environment and mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Exploring new, drought-resistant cultivars

Finally, exploring the introduction of more drought-resistant grape cultivars could also be a game changer for the future of the South African wine industry.

“We need to be an industry ready to experiment with new varieties that can cope with climate change,” says Jordan.

Says Nel: “The future of wine is increasingly turning towards drought-resistant cultivars to mitigate the impact of water shortages and warming weather. Tinta Barocca and Touriga Nacional are good examples of cultivars that have shown resilience in arid conditions and can produce high-quality wine.”

This shift towards more sustainable and climate-resilient wine production is a promising development for the industry and the environment, and highlights the importance of adapting to the changing climate.”

Echoing this, Schultz says: “There are opportunities to import hardy, drought resistant, new cultivars of southern Europe to the Cape, like Tempranillo, Asyrtiko, Touriga Nacional and Grenache – consequently expect the marketing mix to change.”

Other ArticlesView all articles >

In order to take part in these Auctions, you will need to follow three simple steps before bidding.