Relief for wine farms

Day one of the lockdown and the grapes are still heavy on the vines at Constantia Glen.

Constantia and Steenberg wineries have seen sales rise after the alcohol ban was lifted at the beginning of the month.

Alcohol can now be sold from Monday to Thursday, between 9am and 5pm, but for home consumption only.

Constantia Glen lost R2 million in wine-sales turnover alone in the past two months, according to spokeswoman Shannon Petersen.

“And the tasting room/restaurant has lost turnover of about
R3 million in food turnover by being closed. This loss in food turnover cannot be recovered, where at least with the ban on alcohol sales being lifted we are seeing a resurgence of good wine sales,” she said.

The boutique wine farm has been more aggressive in promoting their online wine orders and e-commerce to attract customers as a result of this. They have started doing take-away food sales for collection or delivery and have made this service available directly from the farm using their own delivery staff as well as Uber Eats.

“In terms of wine sales,” Ms Petersen said, “”we are seemingly going to have an excellent month, because we are now processing a backlog of wine orders, and we are extremely grateful to all the locals in our community supporting our wines during this time.”

However, the wine farm has seen a sharp drop in wine sales to most of its overseas markets.

“A significant drop has been tasting-room orders for overseas delivery, as we obviously do not have tourists visiting the farm as they used to so we are now relying on these customers abroad to order without visiting us, which you can imagine is a much more difficult task.”

Heather Poulos, the marketing manager for Steenberg Vineyards, wouldn’t disclose lockdown sales figures but said they had lost a substantial amount of revenue during April and May.

“Fortunately, we have been able to communicate to our consumers through our online shop. This has been a great benefit to us, as consumers were still able to purchase our wines online even though delivery would only be possible once restrictions were lifted.”

“The ease in level 3 restrictions has allowed us to reopen our tasting room for wine sales with strict health and safety measures for our staff and our consumers.”

Ms Poulos said online sales were even more buoyant now that the alcohol ban was gone.

“But we have noticed a difference in that they prefer to collect their wine rather than wait for it to be delivered. We have also noticed that more people are purchasing larger quantities of wine than before.”

South Africa’s oldest wine producer, Groot Constantia, said it had seen some relief with last week’s sales, but continuing restrictions and no tourism had hurt the farm.

“We face a unique challenge, being in not one, but two industries that have been hard hit by the pandemic: namely wine and tourism,” said Jean Naudé, CEO of Groot Constantia.

Covid-19, he said, could be added to the many historic challenges the farm had witnessed and survived in the last 335 years, namely two World Wars, the Boer War, the Great Depression, Spanish Flu, the bubonic plague, the earthquake of 1809, The great storm of 1865, the Rinderpest, several droughts, fires, and pestilence.

Mr Naudé said to help replenish exhausted wine supplies after many weeks of lockdown, Groot Constantia was offering pre-packed mixed cases of their award-winning wines for sale – which are available for online purchase, or directly at the estate.

Wade Bales, a distributor of wines who operates from a warehouse on Klein Constantia Road, at the bottom of the Groot Constantia estate, had received an influx of orders online last week.

Mr Bales said on Monday morning June 1 they were facing just over 5200 orders to fulfill. By the end of Tuesday, they had shipped over 3000 of those orders and were expecting to have processed 95% of all orders taken during April and May by the end of last week.

Throughout last week, there were long queues outside many bottle stores.

At the weekend, hospital trauma units reported a surge in alcohol-related injuries, and on Tuesday Premier Alan Winde

said: “I want to be very clear with the people of the Western Cape: this abuse of alcohol is taking away beds from people who need it during this very serious pandemic.”

Various voice notes circulated on social media saying government intended to bring back the alcohol ban because people were abusing alcohol, but Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said on Monday that no such calls had been tabled before the National Coronavirus Command Council.

Mr Winde warned that if people did not drink responsibly, the province might have to “explore alternative steps”.