When the new Covid restrictions were announced last week, the wine industry was concerned about a renewed ban on alcohol. Talking to some friends, I realised that they found my anxiousness about such restrictions a bit selfish. Alcohol-related incidents do take up valuable hospital beds and medical resources and it is true that alcohol abuse could result in reckless Covid behaviour. But do they know about the industry and economy behind the wine?
When I saw this wonderful one-pager capturing the state of the wine industry and the essence of its contribution to employment and the economy, I felt like printing flyers and handing it out. The wine industry understands its responsibility towards conscious consumption and upliftment of its communities, but when an industry is suffering, even these responsibilities might become challenging. While we all have to work together to combat the pandemic, we also have to keep our industries alive to ensure long term sustainability.
According to Vinpro’s handy information page, in 2019, the South African wine industry consisted of 2693 producers or grape growers and 529 cellars. They create jobs for 80 183 farm and cellar workers while the entire value-chain is responsible for the employment of 269 096 people. If this doesn’t sound like a lot, imagine finding alternative employment for 80 000 people in small communities or caring for 80 000 families when there is no household income.
Does that explain why we are so worried about a ban? Last year’s restrictions on local wine sales resulted in a decrease of 20% by volume and 15.8% by value in the South African wine market. There are arguments that Covid is doing a cleansing job. As in many other instances, Covid magnified existing issues and that is also true for wine. But with area under vineyard decreasing significantly over the last decade (from around 101 000 ha in 2010 to 92 000 in 2020) and yield being maximised to ensure profitability, there is not much more to do from a production side without compromising quality.
In 2020, the SA wine industry generated local sales to the value of R13.3 bn and exports of R9.1 bn. According to Vinpro’s calculations this meant that 19 million glasses of South African wine were enjoyed world-wide every day. Can you think what a wonderful marketing job wine can do for South Africa?
Wine’s challenge is to think new when it comes to brand, product and target market. It is quite the challenge for an old industry, but I am sure we can do it. Our other challenge might be even bigger. While wine drinkers might see wine as a lifestyle product to be enjoyed responsibly, I realised that for many, wine is just another alcoholic product, responsible for reckless behaviour and social issues. There is no denying the importance of addressing alcohol abuse in our country – an issue much bigger than our industry. But then, we also have to change perceptions around wine. It might mean that we have to focus on education and exposure and a host of other complicated and intertwined factors, but when an industry is threatened because of a lack of hospital beds, I think there is work to be done!