The amount of red wine in South Africa is set to increase when 10.4% more vines bearing red varietals come into production during the upcoming harvest, while white wine is set to drop by 2%. Winemakers are optimistic that the 2001 harvest will be exceptional if the weather remains cool. The harvest, which starts in January, is expected to yield about the same quantity of wine as last season.

The latest preliminary harvest report, released by South African Wine Information and Systems (SAWIS) today, estimates a total of 1,111,026 tons of grapes, which is 1.2% higher than last season, which was considered a small crop.

Working on last season's recovery rate of 765 litres per ton (based on 2000 figures), the 2001 harvest will be about 850 million litres.

Bigger harvests are expected in regions such as Malmesbury, Stellenbosch, and the Klein Karoo, while the Orange River's crop is expected to be down, said Yvette van der Merwe, SAWIS Industry Information Manager, who co-ordinated the report.

Vineyards with producing red vines were this year estimated at 18,708 ha compared with 16,952 ha in 1999, while vineyards with producing white vines were estimated at 57,742 ha compared with 58,939 ha in 1999.

This figure excludes vines planted in the last two years and sultana grapes, which are used mainly for table and dried fruit purposes, but can be added to the distilling wine pool depending on crop conditions.

The growing season to date has been marked by cooler than normal weather, following a third consecutive dry and slightly warmer winter. Spring and early summer have delivered only a few warm days, which experts in the field say is particularly welcome in areas where a below average rainfall has been registered.

Diseases and pests do not pose any problems and wherever downy mildew occurred earlier in the season, it was well managed.

The report did however warn that if the dry weather continued until harvest, which starts in early January, it could impact negatively on volumes in dry land areas or areas where there is insufficient irrigation water.

Leading winemakers, Charles Back from Fairview Estate in Paarl and Danie Malan from Allesverloren Estate in Malmesbury agree with the preliminary report.

"If the cool weather persists and we get a little more rain between Christmas and New Year, we are in for an exceptional vintage," said Back.