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Harvesting opportunities in the Western Cape

This month sees the Cape wineries and grape farmers bringing in the 2015 harvest. It is a hard, yet exciting time for the region’s farmers and vintners and always prompts curiosity from the general population. But behind the wine and fruit sector is a much wider economy that feeds into, and off of, the annual harvest. Cape Business News spoke to some of the businesses that support the sector to see how much local and national players are affected by a good or a bad harvest.

So how is the harvest going? CBN spoke to Boela Gerber, Groot Constantia’s winemaker who said that work started between seven and ten days earlier this year due to the warm, dry weather.

“The morale is fantastic. Harvesting is hard work but a lot of fun. Our guys are having a good time laughing and chatting. We use a lot of manual labour – with the high unemployment rates we try not to mechanise our labour.”

“This year’s harvest is looking very healthy, with beautiful mountain-ripe fruit. It was definitely a dryer year this year. As a result of the early harvest, we have finished harvesting all the white wines. The sparkling wine, semillon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc as well as the pinotage are all in the winery.”

So far, Gerber says that they have managed to harvest around the same amount of grapes as last year, which was a bumper year for the wine industry.

“We sell 40% locally and export 60%. Our main export market is Germany, although the US has been showing a lot of potential in the last few years. Northern Europe is also really good to us.”

Creation Wines from Hermanus concurred saying, “Our first Chardonnay came in on 6 February, 10 days earlier than normal. This is due to early bud burst; we will still be picking around 120 days after flowering if this weather holds.”

Creation goes on to say that its yields are higher this year than last, “With some yields lower in 2014 due to strict quality control, this year should see yields returning to normal levels. However we do use green harvesting to keep yields in check.”

Both Creation and Groot Constantia have had to deal with some very real challenges this year, with Groot Constantia losing some vineyards to huge Cape fires that tore through the Cape Peninsula, and Creation wines having to compensate for the power outages that have plagued South Africa.

“We purchased a large diesel generator for the 2009 vintage due to load shedding back then, and although we hadn’t anticipated or budgeted for this purchase it has been an excellent investment – it can power the entire operation. We also purify our own water so we are pretty self-sufficient,” says the Creation Wines team.

From a wider perspective grape volumes to date have been considerably higher year on year. There was an early spike in the peak volumes due to a combined factor of new variety plantings and excellent weather. Volumes however are expected to drop off from now with the Hexriver still going strong, but other regions tapering off. The final volume is expected to be slightly higher than last year however the experts are not willing to commit to this due to this season being a bit different to usual.

When talking about the harvest, it is easy to focus entirely on the picking and pressing of the grapes, but this single annual event has a ripple effect on other sectors of the Cape business community including packaging for various stages of production and the various grape products, import and export services, logistics, cold storage and machinery, pumps and associated parts for these sectors and the farmers and vintners themselves.


Even multi-national enterprises such as Sappi see the value in the fruit sector. Although the company doesn’t sell any products directly to the wine and grape sector, it sells different tyoes of paper to the converters and corrugators that make the boxes that are then sold onto the farmers, co-operatives and pack houses.

The science of packaging for an international market, especially fruits that need to go into cold storage, is not simple.

Richard Wells, Sappi’s General Manager Commercial told CBN in an interview, “The products we supply include virgin liners and semi-chemical fluting for the corrugators that manufacture boxes for the large agricultural market. These virgin papers have specifically engineered characteristics and properties that are well suited for the demanding agricultural market, especially protecting the produce through the cold supply chain. The boxes made from these papers are used to package table grapes for the local and export markets.”

“We also sell some recycled products, made predominantly from recycled paper, to corrugators who make boxes destined for the industrial market where the supply chain is not as vigorous as that for agricultural produce. In the wine and grape sector applications could be as secondary packaging for wine bottles or direct to shelf products like wine boxes.”

Sappi also offer full technical back-up to the corrugators and get involved with product development where needed. Other services we offer our customers and industry bodies would include box-testing at The Sappi Technology Centre as well as offering other technical paper testing as required by our customers

“We also develop and test new products in conjunction with the corrugators as they give feedback from the agricultural sector to us.”

An example of a recent product development initiative would be the development of Sappi’s new semi-chemical fluting product Ultraflute that has provided customers with a product with additional strength, thus providing them with the opportunity of light weighting their paper combinations without sacrificing the strength properties of the box.

“The light-weighting of paper board for boxes is a current trend across the world mostly spurred by environmental awareness and high logistics costs.”

Wells is candid about the importance of the sector to the company, “Quite simply our success is dependent on the farmer’s success. A good crop means more sales volumes, which require more boxes and thus more paper. Sappi is a local supplier with packaging paper production at four different operations in South Africa. Essentially we offer good quality locally produced products that are sustainably produced and offer our customers good value and reliability. The products have been tested through the supply chain for many years now and ultimately the farmers can rely on their produce reaching their end markets in good condition.”

Sappi is also an active member of FPEF (Fresh Produce Exporters Forum) and SATGI (South-African Table Grape Industry.)

“We attend workshops and forums where matters relevant to the industry are discussed as ultimately the success of a particular crop has a direct impact on our business. These forums also keep us up to date as to the current market status regarding harvest forecasts and any anomalies so we can best prepare to serve the market for the challenges facing them and adapt accordingly.”

And the grape industry is a growth industry, “We have seen recent growth in our volumes. Generally growth in the sales of our virgin products has been in line or better than GDP. This has been helped by the weaker Rand, which has improved the return for farmers that export, which in turn has resulted in some increased areas under crop and is also helped by improved yields in orchards depending on the crop. As far as extra volumes in grapes are concerned we experienced especially good growth in the Hexriver and Limpopo regions.”

“Sappi will continue to develop paper products that can enhance and strengthen new designs in cartons especially those required to go through cold storage. Our virgin containerboard products are ideally adapted to this supply chain and we will continue to work on helping our customers lightweight their paper products without sacrificing strength and thus ultimately pass on commercial benefits to our customers.”

“We realise that growing agricultural production and especially fruit exports are key to our growth plans. New and continuous innovation will ensure that we can sustain supply of ever improving, value adding products to the industry and give them the needed peace of mind that they will have a local supplier of quality containerboard for the long term future,” concludes Wells.


Jaco Vlok, National Sales, Marketing and Operations director at Sky services spoke to CBN on how the harvest affects his business, and what services Sky Services offers this sector.

“We are a logistical service provider specializing in the forwarding of perishable products by air from Cape Town and Johannesburg. We are basically the middleman between the exporter (farmer / marketer / trader) and the customer (importer / supermarket group / trader) into the destination market airline carrying the products to. Our expertise lies in negotiating and arranging for the necessary airfreight capacity, arranging for PPECB (Perishable Products Export Control Board) Inspections, preparing all customs documentation, preparing the cargo for transportation by air and ensuring the cold chain is managed throughout the process to the end customer,” says Vlok.

All table grapes are normally transported by sea, so exporters will only make use of airfreight when there is a shortage of table grapes due to other countries not being able to supply or when the harvest is late and the sea freight takes too long to get the product into the market and onto the shelves in time.

Vlok continues, “There is sometimes a very large demand for table grapes from various supermarket groups. The demand in these instances is so large that we charter aircrafts with a capacity of 100 tons to fly the grapes out and meet the Importers demands.”

A good harvest means that South Africa can supply more grapes internationally. It is good business for Sky Services when there is a demand for South African table grapes in Europe.

“That’s when we get the opportunity to fly the grapes out due to the urgency.”

Sky Services also handle various perishable products including fresh cut flowers (proteas and fynbos,) fish for the sushi markets, stone fruit and fresh meat to name but a few.

“We are also looking at diversifying into other commodities like pharmaceuticals,” concludes Vlok.

Cold storage and warehousing solutions

When there is a good harvest the space in the cold stores is at a premium. The fruit has to be cooled quickly and maintain its temperature to prevent spoiling. The need to pack these products in tightly, without damaging the produce and allowing for both stock rotation and enough air to circulate to keep the grapes cold has led to much innovation in the warehousing, logistics and racking industries, and spawned specialised solutions for just this application.

Machinery, pumps and related industries

The wine industry requires a lot of agri-processing machinery. The Western Cape has many companies that supply and maintain these machines and pumps, but there is also a whole industry that supplies the hoses, valves and other components that the wine industry uses.

Sally Rorich from Cape Town Rubber says it is imperative to have the correct pipes and spare parts for the winemaking machinery.

“This helps to cut downtime on the various processes of wine-making that can be delayed due to problems such as hose leakage and breakage,” explains Rorich. She goes on to point out that no two wineries have the same requirement.

“Each wine producer has different needs, and we try to tailor make our products to suit their requirements.”

The Western Cape is a unique business environment with specialized businesses that support the specific needs of the region. It is important to remember the larger economic impact that an annual event, like the harvest, has on businesses across the board, and that the success of one sector unlocks opportunities for businesses across sectors in the region. 

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