Wine industry warns of collapse if harvesting, exporting halted
The industry yesterday held talks with various government departments to reverse the lockdown regulations that will result in the shutting down of cellars and a ban on wine exports.
Vinpro, which represents 2500 South African wine grape producers, and cellars, said that switching off cellars would have catastrophic economic and socio-economic implications.
Vinpro managing director, Rico Basson, said on Wednesday that it was essential for the industry to complete harvesting activities in the next two weeks, and to secure the stock. It also contested current regulations that prohibit the export of wine.
“This is an extremely important aspect for current and future economic sustainability and socio-economic stability,” said Basson.
Vinpro said the final amended regulations of the lockdown contradicted verbal commitment from national departments, within the economic cluster of government.
According to the regulations, only food products including non-alcoholic beverages were listed as essential products and the trade and manufacturing of alcoholic products were scheduled to cease during the lockdown.
Maryna Calow, a spokesperson for Wines of South Africa (WoSA), said yesterday that roughly 20percent of grapes still needed to be harvested in the next two weeks.
“Not only do the grapes need to be harvested, they also need to be processed, otherwise all the juice will also essentially turn into vinegar, and whatever is left on the vines will go to waste,” warned Calow.
Calow said WoSA, which is the wine export marketing council for the South African wine industry, was worried that the wine industry would be brought to its knees if exports were banned during the lockdown.
“The fact is that if we do not export, there will be a knock-on in the industry and some farmers may lose everything. The issue is that lockdown is 21 days, and it might be extended beyond,” said Calow.
The wine industry employs about 290000 people and exports on average between 420million and 450million litres a year.
However, following three years of drought, the industry only exported 320million litres of wine last year.
“We were hoping that 2020 would be a year of recovery for the wine industry and that yields would be better following strong winter rains in 2019,” Calow said.
The value of wine exports dropped to R8.7billion last year on lower yields from R9.3bn a year earlier.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the 21-day lockdown on Monday as a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
South Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases rose to more than 900 yesterday.
Meanwhile, Distell, Africa’s leading producer of spirits and wines, has announced that it would begin producing hand sanitisers and other hygienic products to curb the spread of coronavirus in South Africa.
Chief executive Richard Rushton said that the company had committed 100000 litres of alcohol, which would be used to produce sanitisers and a variety of other hygienic and sanitising products.
“We fully understand that our position as a leading player in the alcoholic beverages industry comes with a societal obligation.
"We want communities to benefit from our presence and we are determined to rise to the challenge,” said Rushton.