harvest Western Cape

Wine farmers and their workers have a heavy burden to carry under lockdown. Image: Supplied

A fine harvest, yes… but wine industry is left high and dry

The harvest is usually a time of joy and elation in the Cape Winelands. But not this time, as the troubled industry continues to suffer as a result of the liquor ban and other lingering issues.

harvest Western Cape

Wine farmers and their workers have a heavy burden to carry under lockdown. Image: Supplied

Visit any Cape vineyard right now and you will see the crop hanging plentiful. Winter rains have been abundant and the odd shower in the run-up to harvest seems to have come just at the right time.

After a couple of lean years, the Cape is being blessed with a promising crop of well-ripened, healthy fruit. 

You would expect a sense of joy and elation on every grower’s face; a sense of reward at last. Alas, the sense right now is one of despondency, despair and anger.

Wine farms fear for livelihoods

grape harvest wine
Harvesting is under way, but farmers fear for their and their workers’ continued livelihoods. Image: Supplied

Can no-one out there understand not only the lot of the wine growers, but the positive contribution of fine wine to the region’s lives and livelihoods?

Institute of Cape Wine Masters chairman Jacques Steyn and several others summed this up most eloquently in this recent open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The letter details the damage being done by the current liquor ban to the industry and its transformation programmes.

Wine industry’s open letter to Cyril Ramaphosa

The letter stated: “Mr President, the South African wine industry plays a vital role as an employer in the agricultural and food sectors, but also throughout the value chain creating more than 265,000 jobs: affecting sommeliers, wine farm representatives, suppliers, restaurant, retail, and tasting room staff, wine educators, garagistes, wine journalists and media workers – and all their families and dependants.

“We contribute more than R55bn or 1.1% to the GDP of South Africa and ensure a positive effect on the balance of payments through significant exports. In various rural economies, the wine sector is the backbone of communities and towns.”

Urgent appeal to lift table wine ban

The letter said thanks to “persistent hard work and innovation within the diverse wine landscape, South Africa has been recognised for our premium table wines and we have consistently garnered an increased share of the local and global food table”.

“However, the restriction on the sale of table wine is having a devastating impact on our industry and all of the many related ancillaries, transformation initiatives, community upliftment projects and jobs.

“We are on the brink of harvest 2021 with a significant amount of unsold stock which runs the risk of going to waste and destroying significant amounts of economic value. We urge you to engage with us and lift the ban on our products immediately.”

Many in the industry feel the fact that the powers that be have simply lumped the aesthetic “table wine” market with alcohol in general indicates a clear misunderstanding of two very different forms of “refreshment”.

Wine industry has serious work to do

Cape Winelands worker
The Cape Winelands support thousands of jobs. Image: Supplied

Make no mistake – the wine industry still has some serious homework to do, with the effect of cheap wine consumption being of huge concern and very damaging to society. Then there are those who produce and supply world-class wines to a discerning and generally responsible consumer.

It is clear there is a desperate need for those in charge to understand what the industry is about, while also needing to understand the damage caused by irresponsible wine production and distribution.

If South Africa’s wine people are people of the land who respect their workers and their families, and have the moral fibre that this country so sorely needs, then they have to be pro-active in the battle against wine abuse.

Wine farmers’ fight is not beer industry’s fight

chardonnay grapes
Some in the industry believe getting rid of ‘papsakke’ and sticking to table wine only is the way to go. Image: Supplied

The feeling is that this industry’s fight is a different one to the SABs of this world: They are not only justifying their existence based on the tax revenue they provide (which is considerable). The beer and the spirit people have a different product and, generally, a different market, so they must come up with their own solution.

The best interim solution right now, many in the industry believe, would to be to allow only the sale of table wine, as controlled and certified by the Wine and Spirit Board, and in one swoop rid South African society of the “papsakke”, the plastic “rooi doppies”  and the scourge of illegal “ales”. 

Wine industry must find its own solutions

While a vaccination might eventually rid the world of the Coronavirus pandemic, only the wine industry itself can provide the “vaccination” to rid society of the damages and consequences of alcohol abuse. 

The industry must understand the problem and by, working together, find lasting solutions.