‘Unethically cheap wine has got to go!’ urge wine industry players

Farming communities have a high alcohol dependence and the world's highest incidences of foetal alcohol disorders

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Role-players in the wine industry have come out strongly against the unscrupulously cheap wine infamously known as “rooiproppie” (red cap) or “papsak”. 

The wine, sold in cheap, unbranded packaging for less than R20 per litre, is seen as a contributor to high levels of alcohol misuse in poorer communities. It leads to the destruction of the most impoverished people’s health, dignity and self-respect and needs to be uprooted, say wine industry leaders 

David Finlayson, owner and winemaker at Edgeson Wines in Stellenbosch.  Photo: Supplied

The “potent dop” has been in the industry for a painfully deep-rooted period and it is crunch time for the wine industry to set in motion a plan to eradicate it, says David Finlayson, owner and winemaker at Edgebaston Wines in Stellenbosch. 

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“It is time to work on getting rid of the negatives like the sale of the infamous ‘rooiproppie’, papsak and plastic containers that do the industry harm. Focus on the quality products in glass at higher price points (and) create routes to distillation for sub-par products out there,” he urges.  

Alex Milner, owner of Natte Valleij Estate in the Simonsberg mountains in Stellenbosch. Photo: Supplied

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Alex Milner, owner of Natte Valleij Estate in the Simonsberg mountains in Stellenbosch believes that the seeds to reinvent a wine industry that is free from unethically cheap alcohol must be sown today.  

“Unethically cheap booze must go, we won’t see a difference tomorrow, but in twenty years we will be in a far better space on all social fronts.”

Structural impact 

According to Wanda Augustyn, manager of media & communications of the wine industry body Vinpro, the sale of wine in plastic containers in 2019 amounted to 42 million litres. This was 5% of the total wine production that amounted to 837 million litres.  

Wanda Augustyn, manager of media & communications of the wine industry body Vinpro. Photo: Supplied

Augustyn explains that many people in the wine industry regard wine in plastic containers as unethically cheap alcohol although it is still legal. She also notes that there is also a product currently on the market that is sold and marketed under the guise of actual wine.  

“It’s important to note that sales of ales, a sugar fermented product, amounted to almost 120 million litres during the same year. This product looks like wine and is marketed alongside wine inter alia in plastic containers, but it is not wine,” she explains. 

Industry ‘should own up to health consequences’ 

Colette Solomon, director of Women on Farms Project. Photo: Supplied

Colette Solomon, director of Women on Farms Project, is infuriated that that immoral cheap wine is still being produced and sold in the country. 

“We can’t applaud the industry for this initiative, which is long overdue. In fact, it’s outrageous and unacceptable that this low quality, unhealthy, potent ‘wine’ is still being produced for the low price or cheap market. These are primarily poor, black consumers, including farm workers.”

Solomon says there is a more fundamental question that the wine industry should be addressing, and that relates to its legal, financial and moral responsibility for addressing the intergenerational legacy of the “dop” system. This system saw agri workers receive part of their wages in wine, which correlates with a high incidence of alcohol abuse and dependency and various health issues.

“There is still a high alcohol dependence in farm worker communities and farm worker communities have the world’s highest incidence of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD’s) in the world, as a result,” she says.  

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