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Namibia: Grape grower's biggest challenge is heat and dust

Aussenkehr is the biggest grape producing region in Namibia. Development started only 20 years ago, making it a relatively new production area and the valley still has the feeling of a frontier town, a long way from civilization. It is the earliest region in the southern hemisphere and this has helped it to benefit from an empty European market

The climate is ideal for growing grapes as it is a hot arid desert climate where it seldom rains. The climate reduces the need for pesticides but of course a guaranteed water supply is essential. This comes from the Orange River which has always had a plentiful supply, until this year.

The river level is at an all time low and growers are waiting for water which has been released in South Africa to reach the valley; there were differing expectations as to when the water would arrive. Namibia has an agreement with South Africa on this release of water, it should be released only when it is needed in the valley but with the prolonged drought in South Africa it was taking a bit longer.

Water is not the biggest concern in Assenkher however; in order for the companies there to expand they need to have more electricity to work the pumps which bring the water to the vineyards and to power the packhouses. There has been a big improvement on last year when they had constant power cuts; there have been none so far this season. A new power station has been built and should be working very soon, allowing the growers to expand the plantations in the coming years.

Labour in not a problem as there is a ready supply of people who travel down from the north of the country for the grape harvest each year, more than 20,000 people make the journey. They come down and build houses made from reeds which they cut from the river. The make-shift village is made up from a combination of permanent workers and those just there for the season.

One big distinction between the growers is how they pack; some going for hi-tech systems while others are expanding field packing. There are compelling arguments for both.

It is said that the biggest enemies in Aussemkehr are the dust and the heat, the dry climate and dirt roads together with the hot winds make for a dusty environment.

The season is expected to be shorter, with a lot of volumes coming in at the same time but quality is very good.