We all need something to be positive about. And while the inauguration of US President Joe Biden brought a definite ray of light to America and even the rest of the world, the troubled South African wine industry has good news of its own. The closely affiliated wine and tourism industries are amidst a Covid-19-induced fight for survival with very little to be positive about, but now harvest time has arrived, bringing with it its normal infectious energy.
“To stay positive in the time of Covid and a coup, we have to be brave…” – the ending to my blog two weeks ago. Positivity and bravery were on the agenda again when Amanda Gorman read her poem during the Presidential inauguration: “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” With the 2021 pressing season arriving for the hard-hit SA wine industry, optimism and bravery are of the essence.
The freshness of an early-morning walk through the vineyards, the activity in the vineyards and cellars and the energy and excitement of harvest-time lift my spirits and I believe, also those of local wine-making communities. Of course, it doesn’t help to make more wine when you can’t sell it, but for those who work in the vineyards and cellars, there is a joy to the harvest that, for a moment, transcends the marketing and sales dilemma.
The overall quality of the 2021 wine grape harvest is expected to be exceptional after a very good growing season with a cold and wet winter and relatively cool growing conditions. The season is about two weeks late and at La Motte, we expect it to only start in February. Volumes seem to be slightly lower – which is not a bad thing in a year where cellar capacity is an issue. The value of stock surplus due to the alcohol ban is estimated at R1,5 billion of unsold wine still in cellars. Most wineries have excess wines in the cellar and some either dropped bunches in the vineyards or will leave bunches hanging to manage the size of the crop to be harvested.
Charles Hopkins at De Grendel agrees that volumes might be 7 to 10% lower and he also believes that the harvest brings some optimism: “While there is much to worry about – if we factor in load shedding and an increase in fuel prices in addition to the uncertainty about wine sales and the cellar capacity challenges – at least, we should be positive when it comes to the quality promise of the 2021 vintage.”
Another reason to be positive (crazy as it might be!), is that we are at least allowed to harvest the grapes and continue with pressing in the cellars. Remember when that was under contention in the first lockdown?! We are also allowed to continue processing and exporting – a lifesaver in these times. Through the hard work of our international network and initiatives like #SaveSAWine, SA wine exports performed well last year. While export volumes stayed similar to 2019, Vinpro reports an export revenue of R9.1 billion, a 7.7% growth on the previous year.
Amidst rumours of new alcohol legislation, there are continued industry efforts to make government see nuance in the alcohol sector. Cooperation between government and industry is of the essence to find a workable approach and a solution to the reasons for alcohol abuse – which is not purely its availability…
It is easy to be negative when looking at the figures and reading the news. But, when I get off my phone and walk through the vineyards and the cellar, I can feel the energy of the winemaking team, doing what they know and love. They realise the threats to the industry, but with a new harvest, just about ready for the picking, it is impossible to ignore the beauty of what we do and to keep believing that SA wine will overcome this crisis. To conclude with another quote by Amanda Gorman: “That even as we grieved, we grew / That even as we hurt, we hoped / That even as we tired, we tried.”