Where to from here? There are reasons a-plenty why the years ahead should afford wine grape growers anxiety, the unprecedented drought just one.
A glance at the latest figures for Western and Northern Cape vineyards planted vs those uprooted, illustrates a level of disenchantment and lack of sustainability: since 2013, the annual shortfall has been around 1600 hectares.
Without giving precise figures, information from the Du Toitskloof team suggests their growers have a stable area under vine, with small pockets of citrus, kiwi fruit and mushrooms among other alternative crops grown. (Citrus is now a popular replacement for vines in the Robertson area.) Given Breedekloof’s aquifers, enough for irrigation even in the current drought, and the fertile soils, no general change to wine growing is foreseen. What is changing is the approach to viticulture; more suitable varieties being introduced; technology allowing for root depth manipulation and innovative canopy management all with the goal of producing higher yields of better quality and sustainability.
Quality and sustainability need to be complemented by better marketing. Over the past few years, a consortium of Breedekloof producers, both privately owned and producer cellars, have held a competition for chenin blanc, the most-planted variety in the area. The event appears to be well-organised and is beginning to attract some much-needed awareness of the area. The Du Toitskloof team not only see it as helping to generate more focus on quality but lifting the perception of the entire Breedekloof region as a brand. Their view is it could eventually lead to a collective Breedekloof brand, but it would need a collective mindset and collaboration.
It’s all a far cry from being nursed by the KWV. Some co-operatives have adapted better than others and even more adaptability is going to be required in future. What is going to be the situation in 2027; will there be even fewer wine growers, producer cellars and private ones too? Looking into their crystal ball, the team reckons sustainability will require more joint ventures establishing brands across price and quality points; even so, the market will largely dictate, as it does now but such brands would make it a far less confusing place. No change is envisaged for those sustainably established properties such as Kanonkop, Meerlust et al, which will continue to play an important role in supporting the positive image of Brand South Africa.
Du Toitskloof is already one of the leaders in establishing a collective brand different in several ways from their own. The Land’s End brand, with its well-known lighthouse label, was purchased in 2016. Fruit for both the sauvignon blanc and syrah will continue to be sourced from around the cool-climate, southern coastal area of Cape Agulhas and vinified at the Du Toitskloof cellar. (Rooiberg Winery is another, having purchased The Game Reserve conservancy range from Graham Beck Wines around the same time.)
Perhaps this is the future for many of the old co-ops, but come 2027, even if there are fewer wine growers, (as I suspect there will be), fewer producer and even private cellars due to closure or amalgamation, it will surely be the fittest, most market-savvy that survive, I expect to see Du Toitskloof among them.