Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is crucial to have a broader perspective. Even when something is not your taste or culture, your business or priority, being informed and open-minded to understand why it is significant to others, is more important than we might think. This is another Covid-19 lesson!
To get straight to the point, I understand that wine is not regarded as a necessity. Of course it is an enormous blow for the industry that local wine sales have been prohibited during lockdown and of course it will have a serious effect on our bottom line and how we can continue business and pay salaries, but we are not the only industry affected as such. While the impact on economies – from global organisations to the informal sector – is already and will continue to be disastrous, I always value something that challenge my way of thinking. Something that stops me in my tracks and makes me question what would’ve been my automatic train of thought.
But to be brutally honest, being open-minded didn’t help me understand government’s lockdown regulations for the wine industry. When government announced that wine is not essential, it didn’t only stop wine sales, it had a much broader effect. It made it impossible for the industry to continue exports and even worse, it prohibited wineries amid the annual harvest, to continue with the pressing season. The long-term effects of such a decision in an industry that struggles when it comes to profitability, but that annually contributes around R49 billion to GDP and offers 290 000 jobs throughout one of our largest export-orientated agricultural value-chains, would have been enormous.
I am very relieved that after what has been a nail-biting wait for wineries, government has come to the insight to amend their decision to shut down the complete ‘non-essential’ wine industry and allow wineries to complete their harvest. (Read more) Despite all the challenges ahead, I think the South African wine industry took a collective sigh of relief when this news came through. Few of us would doubt the commitment of Rico Basson and his Vinpro team before, but their commitment to our industry and their persistent efforts with this issue, really saved the 2020 harvest.
Wine is my industry. I am a winemaker. I manage wine estates. I am passionate about the product and the people. And I am not alone. Many others work in this industry not only because of the product and its commercial value, but also because of its people. It is about the people who earn a livelihood through an industry with varied branches – farm workers, cellar workers, wine tourism workers – from cleaners to chefs, sales representatives, label designers, website administrators, the list goes on… It is also about bringing opportunities to small, country communities where chances for development, training and earning a salary are scarce.
Of course, the wine industry is not a charity organisation and it is not only the previously disadvantaged that benefits from the industry. For an industry to work, it needs to operate at a profit and that is the aim of everyone involved. It must be said, though, that making a profit has been a real challenge for the wine industry for many years. Despite the tough environment, a lot has been done to uplift and help and support through initiatives such as Pebbles and the Cape Wine Auction and countless more. The wine industry’s role in promoting the image of South Africa as a tourism destination through its acclaimed wine tourism offering is also not to be negated. And then, the liquor industry has never shied away from its responsibilities. Just now, hot on the heels of the world’s largest brewer, Belgian AB InBev starting to ship disinfectant to hospitals in Europe, Distell has committed 100 000 liters of alcohol to produce hand sanitizer and hygiene products for vulnerable SA communities.
Yes, wine is also about enjoying a quality lifestyle and a good glass of wine with your meal or your friends. It is easy to think that drinking wine is a luxury and of course it is not a bare necessity. Driving a luxury car is not a necessity either. But for the people who make the car, for those involved in putting that luxury choice in the market, that car is almost more important than for those who drive around in it.
The two-name virus that has taken over the world will do much more than challenge our health systems and forcing us to isolate. It will make us re-evaluate and reconsider. I am all for the national lockdown and applaud President Ramaphosa’s decision to act swiftly to flatten the curve. Of course, we understand that this is a challenge to business and in order to save our country from the devastation of Italy, for instance, we need to take the blow for the greater good.
I know that I am the beholder and that it is easy for me to see the beauty and all that is positive about the wine industry. Alcohol is a product that requires responsibility – from its producers and from its consumers. We know that and I think we’ve come a long way in addressing its potential harm, but in all fairness, I think the SA wine industry deserves a bit more credit – during lockdown, but also when it comes to funding and support. Let’s hope we all get through this. May all the wineries complete their harvests successfully and may all our people stay safe!