no wine

The wine industry is on its knees. Image: Pexels by Pixabay

Wine industry doldrums: Millions of litres in stock, but no-one to buy

Industry body Vinpro says ‘enough is enough’ with newest alcohol ban.

no wine

The wine industry is on its knees. Image: Pexels by Pixabay

Over the course of the last year, bans on alcohol have been implemented, lifted, reinstated and changed multiple times, bringing the industry to its knees.

The stop-go approach has not only put a strain on businesses directly related to the sale of alcohol and the wine tourism sector, but dented South Africa’s wine exports, which account for $500m (R7.8bn) worth of foreign revenue each year, according

The upshot of these bans has been massive job losses and more than 300 million litres of wine still in stock from the 2020 harvest.

Wine industry on its knees

After the latest intervention instituted by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 29 December, which once more saw a total ban on the sale of alcohol, Rico Basson, MD of wine industry body Vinpro, said the South African wine industry, including wine tourism, was in a state of disaster.

He said urgent intervention was needed or one of the oldest agricultural industries in the country would not survive.

“Many wine businesses have already closed down due to the previous and current trade restrictions, and the rest of the industry will simply not survive a continued alcohol ban, leaving tens of thousands of employees without any income, possibilities or hope.”

Vinpro Wine tourism manager Marisah Nieuwoudt said the latest ban had a devastating effect on businesses, as well as on the recovery of the wine tourism sector.

“December is traditionally our wineries’ busiest time of the year with just shy of 20% of annual domestic visitation taking place during this month,” she said.

Absence of foreign visitors felt

wine estate SA
Picture perfect… but South Africa’s wine farms are off-limits for wine tasting and sales. Image: Adobe Stock

While wine farms did see a rise in tourism activities over December, it was not as much as they had hoped for.

“The absence of our international visitors was felt, and evident in the occupancy figures and revenue collected this December compared with previous years, ” Nieuwoudt said.

According to the CEO of Paarl and Wellington Wine and Tourism, Annelize Stroebel, wineries had to re-invent their offerings just to keep their doors open and their staff employed. She said the latest overnight lockdown implementations had devastating consequences for the country’s wineries.

According to VinPro, the wine industry in South Africa employs more than 40,000 people across 533 wineries, with many more input suppliers and service providers in the value chain. For every job on a wine farm, 10 jobs are created in the rest of the value chain — all of which has come to a grinding halt.

Wine tourism industry needs consistency

Nieuwoudt believes that the government needs to recognise that the wine industry is different from the other alcohol industries and that the wine tourism industry needs consistency.

While both Stroebel and Nieuwoudt emphasised that they understood the crisis of COVID-19, they hoped to see more regulations that allowed wine tourism activities to continue, generating employment and contributing to annual GDP.

‘Save livelihoods and not just lives’

In August, Vinpro presented feasible alternatives to blanket bans on alcohol sales to the government, as well as worked towards establishing a new social compact and solutions to the societal challenges linked to alcohol abuse and the impact on the health sector. However, not much has come of it.

“A social compact is an agreement between various parties, not a one-sided concord. It’s a give-and-take, and currently we are frustrated with the government’s lack of a commitment on the next action steps,” Basson said.

“Enough is enough. If you think about it rationally, the ban doesn’t make sense any more. We have done our utmost to save lives; however, the time has come to now save the livelihoods of the people who work in and depend on the South African wine industry.”

As for the 300 million litres of wine still sitting in stock, and the new harvest on the horizon with a bumper crop expected, can South Africans expect to pay less for wine in the future if and when the ban is lifted? We can only hope.