During his last address to the nation on the coronavirus restrictions during the festive season, Ramaphosa announced that registered wineries and wine farms would be allowed to continue with tastings and sales for off-site consumption over weekends. However, in the subsequent publication of the revised regulations in the Government Gazette, this turned out to be untrue.
Now the Western Cape minister of agriculture, Dr Ivan Meyer, has written to the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Thoko Didiza, to also permit wine tastings and sales on Sundays.
Meyer warns, “This limitation will be detrimental to the wine tourism and agro-processing economy, which employs thousands of people in the Western Cape. Weekends are essential in this industry because it is precisely when tourists are likely to visit farms and purchase from them. It also does not align to what was announced by pres. Ramaphosa on 14 December.”
He says while the Western Cape government shares national government’s concern with the resurgence of covid-19 cases in the country, “it is critical that we get the balance right between saving lives and livelihoods.”
“We contend that a visit to a wine farm, that is following careful health and safety protocols, is an example of safe tourism behaviour during this difficult time. This is because it is primarily an outdoor activity with good ventilation, where social distancing is possible,” says Meyer.
According to Meyer wine grapes represent 50,3% of the 181 233 ha under fruit production in the Western Cape, and the replacement value of these wine grapes amounts to R33.94 billion. Wine is the third biggest export product of the Western Cape economy and contributes 6.5% to the value of exports from the province.
The department estimates that 45 610 people work in the primary production side of the industry and supports the livelihoods of 228 053 people. The iconic nature of the wine industry resulted in the fact that it has strong linkages with the tourism sector.
In his letter to Didiza the minister also stresses that during the initial stages of the covid-19 lockdown, South Africa was the only major wine exporting country banning the exports of wine.
Meyer says, “The result was that we handed market share on a platter to some of our competitors. Even after the domestic trade of wine was resumed with the introduction of level 3 regulations, the sales did not return to normal levels.”
Subsequently, a quarter of annual sales were lost which, in turn, added to cash flow problems for producers. Meyer says, “We cannot be putting even more pressure on this battling sector. In fact, we must be doing everything possible to help them grow and employ more people.”
Meanwhile Vinpro says it is in the process of taking up these discrepancies with government at the highest level, including the office of Western Cape premier Allan Winde. Vinpro says it will provide feedback to its members as soon as they have further clarity on the president’s intention and communication, as well as the published official regulations.