Harvest has barely begun in the Western Cape and already Mother Nature, possibly still wearing her Poison Ivy Halloween costume, has played the wine farms into a smooth seduction in promise of bountiful harvest, enticing with a beckoning finger on one hand, as the other hand moves purposefully, flat like a ship’s sail, to slap the rosy, lust-smitten cheeks of our hopeful harvesters.

People say emotional things, and dismiss them or forget them in hindsight. It has been said by at least one person – though usually more – that “this harvest [on any given year] will be the most challenging one ever”. Fortunately, memories aren’t very reliable, and these things are often said in the heat of the moment and are not actual fact. Thank goodness, or my future career would begin to look very daunting. This year, however, certainly has the credentials to apply for a post in the ‘Horror Show Department’ of recent vintages!

A series of unfortunate events have put pressure on the wine industry of South Africa…

Massive drought has gripped nations worldwide, South Africa included. While this has made me feel guilty for leaving the tap running whilst I brush my teeth, the broader consequences have been profound: livestock culling and plant drought are on the rise. In a winery, where the colossal water usage would make me and my toothbrush look saintly, it is a critical deficit.  South Africa seems to have a reputation for never having the smoothest running machine, so somehow it should be fate that the hydraulics also broke this year. Now we’re pedaling with no brakes.

One would think drought was bad enough…

On the opposite end of the ‘earthly’ elements is fire – though here we have the problem of abundance as opposed to scarcity. Quite a spectacular misfortune a year of drought is when paired with raging fires of biblical proportions. I remember driving down Helshoogte pass in Stellenbosch, to see the front face of Tokara Wine Estate against a backdrop of volcanic orange flames, almost expecting The Four Horsemen to blaze across the sky. Though the fires hit only certain areas and farms, the blow was felt by all, in sympathy of comrades within the industry knowing the misfortune of their friends or by the knowledge of the fleeting luck of those unaffected – realising how devastating such a thing could be.

Though politics don’t often factor into vintages – though maybe they should, since everyone seems to have an “educated opinion” – this doom and gloom spell has been cast on the South African economy too. This hasn’t been completely bad – I saw some funny satire pictures on Facebook, and the overseas allowance I receive is worth more everyday. On a confidence level, however, this is no good for South Africa, a country with a stormy wine market on good days. Export has never been a comfort zone for South African ‘midrange’ and ‘above’ wine producers. The last thing the market needs now is consumers tightening their purses as a possible recession is forecasted. This is especially a problem as the ‘midrange’ producers tend to have the hardest time turning a profit.

Though this isn’t a direct impression on the vintage, the feeling of unrest may cling to the harvest for years to come, when farm expenditures will have to be watched a little more closely as budgets are redrafted.

All of the above may be true, and may be as grueling as I’ve made it sound. Or maybe I’m just the classic old farmer, after a long day at work, looking for a bit of sympathy whilst complaining about the toughest harvest ever for the 27th year in a row.

God knows South Africa can take a good knock on the chin and carry on fighting.