Will the wine industry’s Pastor Lukau please stand up?

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Funny, isn’t it, how one of my all-time favourite films, Pulp Fiction, has so much in common with wine. Gen Z might never have heard about this 1994 American crime thriller drama film, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, but to me it will always be a delirious, post-modern mix of neo-noir thrills – which sounds a lot like Pinot Noir, one of my fave red wine grape varieties.

Of course, 1994 is also of great significance to South Africans as the year that our democracy got freshly pressed. (See what I did there?) There’s a lot of pressing happening everywhere in the winelands at the moment. The harvest of wine grapes remain one of the most crucial steps in the process of wine-making, and this is the season where loads of TLC is being taken before pressing wine grapes to pulp.

Not many people know that wine-making is a volatile exercise.

Also, there seems to be rather mixed emotions about the outlook of the volume vs. the quality of wine currently produced. And, without a doubt, this will impact the consumer. It is already clear that this year’s harvest is considerably lower than previous years. Some wineries are claiming as much as a 50% decrease in volume.

If you’re a wine lover, like me, you should be having a slight panic attack right about now. Is the implication that we’ll suffer a wine-drought? Heaven forbid. How will we survive? More importantly, what is the impact on the employees on the various wine farms?

The severe drought has negatively impacted the wine industry since 2015.
The severe drought has negatively impacted the wine industry since 2015.

The severe drought has already negatively impacted the wine industry since 2015. VinPro’s chairman, Anton Smuts, reckons that if at least R13 billion is not invested to replace old vines within the next decade, the industry will suffer a tremendous blow.

Speaking of my favourite films. Remember Sideways, the influential 2004 black comedy drama film? It explored the wine industry and people still giggle at its famous anti-Merlot quip. Let’s recap that little moment for Gen Z’s sake. In the film, the Pinot Noir-crazed Miles heads into a restaurant to meet two women for dinner. Miles warns his friend Jack that “if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any *bleep* Merlot.” The side effect of this Sideways quip was quite severe. In the early 2000’s it caused a rapid decline in Merlot demand, but caused a boom in other wine varietals.

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This begs the question. Who will revive Mzansi’s wine industry? Is it too soon to joke that we should call on Pastor Alph Lukau who’s recent “resurrection” of a man made international news? VinPro’s Smuts reminded us recently that the state earns a whopping R6,8 billion from the local wine industry, compared to the total income for producers of R5,8 billion. Yet, further inflation increases will impact the wine industry even further – even leading to job losses.

Stefaans May picking grapes on De Wetshof Farm in Robertson in the Western Cape.
Stefaans May picking wine grapes on De Wetshof Farm in Robertson in the Western Cape.

I know what it’s like working in the wine industry’s hospitality sector, and the drought has certainly caused foreign visitors to stay away over the festive season.

If you consider that the Western Cape, as a tourism hub, is heavily reliant on tourism, you don’t even need to do the math that this is a severe blow for the wine industry too. Also very depressing is our very high Gini coefficient. It measures income inequality and the fact of the matter is that we are now a perfectly unequal society.

Perhaps it’s not such a crazy idea to call on Pastor Lukau to resurrect the wine industry.

If he’s not able to resurrect the wine industry, we should call on another “cowboy” that can bring some innovative thinking to the table. The glass of wine has been raised since the days of sacrament. Every year labourers and winemakers alike work tirelessly to resurrect the pulped grapes to wine that has the potential to age, and be worth more than it started out to be.

We now have to stand for something.

Because, heaven knows, if we don’t, the industry might just end up in Pastor Lukau’s coffin.

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