Wine industry’s road to recovery

Thousands of local and international visitors are lured to the Cape Winelands.

The announcement that liquor stores can resume normal trading hours may have come too late for some wine farms.

Vinpro spokeswoman, Wanda Augustyn, estimates the wine industry has seen 22 000 job losses, the closure of 60 to 80 wineries and a R400m loss during every week local alcohol sales were banned.

“The true impact of Covid on our industry will only really be seen in the next 12 to 18 months,” said Ms Augustyn.

Vinpro is a non-profit company that represents 2 500 South African wine producers, cellars and industry stakeholders.

In his national address on Wednesday November 11, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced further easing of the current level 1 lockdown.

Du Toit Hoffman, of Eagles Nest Wines, is delighted that the pre-Covid trading hours are back and that international travel restrictions have been lifted.

According to Vinpro, local sales account for 55% of trade and exports for 45%.

Job losses at Constantia wine farms are mixed.

Groot Constantia CEO Jean Naudé said they had not laid off any staff, and Stephen Cowley, of Klein Constantia, said they had not retrenched any vineyard or cellar employees.

However, Lars Maack, of Buitenverwachting, said they had only been able to hold on to six of their 20 staff.

“The second ban on alcohol meant reducing the business to export sales only. And now the second wave is affecting our export sales,” said Mr Maack.

They helped all “outside” staff with their weekly wages until their UIF claims were processed, he added.

Buitenverwachting had to close its main restaurant. A new tenant, Peter Tempelhoff, will open a restaurant in December.

“Some service staff and waiters will be re-hired and we also managed to absorb some in our informal restaurant, the Coffee Bloc,” said Mr Maack.

With a severely reduced tourism and hospitality market, the estate expected the situation to remain constrained until October in 2021, he said.

Heather Poulos, marketing manager at Steenberg Vineyards, said they had had no layoffs, yet. During the height of lockdown, Steenberg started a feeding scheme, providing over 17 000 meals to the Westlake community, where most of the estate’s staff live.

“Steenberg has also supported staff with additional food vouchers, but these families have naturally taken a massive knock with the reduced salaries,” said Ms Poulos.

According to Ms Augustyn, South Africa is the tenth largest producer of wines in the world. With thousands of local and international visitors lured to the Cape Winelands, creating significant revenue for the economy, the survival of the wine industry and wine tourism was vital for the country’s economic recovery and heritage, she said.

Mr Naudé said Groot Constantia’s exports had continued while Cape Town’s port had still been operational but it had not made up for the “huge loss in tourism revenue”.

Maryna Calow, of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), which represents South African wine producers and exporters, said exports were back to normal.

However, the five weeks during June and July when the industry had not been allowed to export had hit some producers hard.

“Some of our producers lost very valuable [shelf] listings during this time,” said Ms Calow.

“Many wine producers need cellar door sales in order to survive. The fact that tourism is now also open across borders will allow for recovery throughout the value chain.”

Ms Poulos said Steenberg’s foothold in foreign markets had been maintained. “However, foreign markets have also taken a knock with on-consumption sales, as restaurants around the world have been unable to trade, thus impacting the local wine industry.”

As for the 2021 harvest, most local wine producers said it was too early to predict, but Mr Cowley said Klein Constantia had welcomed the good rains this year, and Mr Naudé said this year grapes would ripen without any water stress.

Ms Calow said there was a surplus stock of wine because of the ban on sales, but the industry was finding ways to reduce the surplus to free up cellar space for the harvest in January.

Mr Naudé said Groote Constantia was now open seven days a week for tasting and sales, and the estate was grateful for the support from locals.

Ms Poulos said all Steenberg’s facilities were open to the public and were well supported by local.