Wine industry ‘tired of being government’s light switch’

While many South Africans were relieved by President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement of adjusted Covid-19 restrictions, the wine industry is not taking any chances. It will still drag government to court to avoid any possible future bans on alcohol sales

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While wine industry body Vinpro is pleased with Cyril Ramaphosa’s lifting of the alcohol sales ban last night, it will still drag government to court in an attempt to improve the 362-year-old industry’s long-term sustainability.

This announcement by Vinpro managing director Rico Basson comes as the wine industry today celebrates its annual Wine Harvest Commemoration – exactly 362 years since the first vintage was planted on South African soil.

During a live televised address to the nation, Ramaphosa announced some restrictions on the country’s Covid-19 regulations.

He described the arrival yesterday of the first shipment of vaccines – one million AstraZeneca doses – as a chance to “turn the tide” on the pandemic.

Covid-19 not only crippled the economy, but also led to more than 1.4 million infections and 44 164 deaths.

The president said that retail outlets would, from today onwards, be allowed to sell alcohol between 10:00 and 18:00 from Monday to Thursday, while licensed outlets can serve drinks on-site from 10:00 to 22:00.

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the nation about adjusted Covid-19 lockdown regulations on, among other things, good news for the wine industry. Photo: Twitter
President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the nation about adjusted Covid-19 lockdown regulations on, among other things, good news for the wine industry. Photo: Twitter
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However, Vinpro says while it is good news that wine businesses can start trading again, they are still taking government to court to prevent any possible future surprises.

R8 billion loss for wine industry

It says wine businesses have not been able to earn any income from local wine sales for a total of 20 weeks since March 2020.

Rico Basson, managing director of Vinpro. Photo: Supplied.
Rico Basson, managing director of Vinpro. Photo: Supplied.

This led to an overall loss of more than R8 billion in direct sales revenue and still threatens the survival of cellars, wine grape producers and the livelihoods of 27 000 employees in the wine industry value-chain.

“Opening up wine sales for home consumption, as well as wine cellars for consumption in restaurants and tasting rooms throughout the week and on weekends will help restore some of the local wine sales revenue to more sustainable levels,” says Basson.

“While we are glad that businesses can once again earn much-needed revenue, a long and difficult road to recovery lies ahead for wine-related businesses and it is even too late for some businesses.”

See you in court

As a priority, Vinpro will build on various actions the organisation has focused on over the past 10 months.

“We must first ensure that our industry is not again switched on and off nationwide like a light switch by government, regardless of variation in Covid-19 status in the respective provinces.”

The organisation will therefore go ahead with the court application that was launched in the Cape High Court last week.

It seeks relief which would afford the premier of the Western Cape, Alan Winde, the power to adopt deviations to enable off- and on-consumption sale of liquor in the province.

Western Cape premier Alan Winde. Photo: Supplied
Western Cape premier Alan Winde. Photo: Supplied

Ultimately, similar relief will be sought in respect of the other provinces.

“Covid-19 remains a serious reality that endangers the lives and livelihoods of South Africans.

“We as an industry are committed to proactively implementing preventative measures from farm level to retail to protect employees, consumers and broader wine industry communities.

“Furthermore, we will continue to participate in discussions around a risk-adjusted approach to open up the economy even further, and ensure that it remains open,” says Basson.

Solutions for alcohol abuse

The wine industry says it remains committed to finalising a social compact, which includes other liquor sectors, government and civil society, to collaboratively find more sustainable solutions to social problems around alcohol abuse and to change behaviour over the long term.

“Vinpro and our members strive towards the responsible cultivation, production, marketing, sale and consumption of our products, for which we have received global recognition,” says Basson.

“We will continue to turn to government for financial relief to protect the livelihoods of our 533 wineries, 2 778 wine grape producers and 269 000 employees in the wine industry value chain.”

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