The more perceptive amongst you, my dear, highly-valued readers, may have noticed I have reviewed a lot of South African wine in recent times. I am going to try and review more and more regularly. “Why?”, you may ask. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, South Africa is a treasure trove of characterful, stylish, classy wines, often the best in their classes, that usually represent good value for money. These are the founding principles of Elitistreview; I want to review the best wines, but I have an eye for a bargain.
Secondly, the South African wine business is under existential threat. It needs support from we, its consumers, if it is to have any hope of surviving in its current, quality-driven state. We must act to #SaveSAwine!
South African wine is under assault from two fronts: prohibition of alcohol sale by the government and lack of tourism.
Prohibition in South Africa
There is currently a complete prohibition of alcohol sales in South Africa. No alcohol is allowed to be sold in South Africa to any South African or tourist. The stated aim for this is that hospitals need to keep people with alcohol-related harm out of them in order to keep beds free for COVID-19 patients.
This sounds all very well and good. However, a recent report by the World Health Organisation estimated that half the alcohol sales in South Africa are illicit. Quite clearly, that figure has now moved to 100% given the prohibition of alcohol sales – therefore reducing all state income from alcohol sales, in the forms of alcohol taxes, to zero in one foul swoop.
Putting more money into the hands of criminals and corrupt officials is not going to minimise hospital beds used by drink-related problems. Criminals are well-known for perpetrating their crimes, protecting their assets and activity zones, and dealing with any form of disloyalty using violence.
Furthermore, whilst the business of trading in illegal alcohol has health consequences, so does drinking the stuff. Detailed statistics are not kept by every country, particularly those with high rates of illegal trade in alcohol, but the WHO report quotes two studies on the health effects of illicit alcohol. One of these details that over 700 people died in Iran between February and April 2020 from methanol poisoning due to drinking moonshine. The other study reports that in July 2020, methanol in illegally distilled alcohol killed 86 people in Punjab, India.
Funding criminals via prohibition is a massive social problem and a health problem (of unknown but probably large proportions). A government outsourcing the filling of hospital beds to the illegal alcohol trade rather than the legal one is probably likely to incur more costs whilst not receiving any income from alcohol tax.
So prohibition is a net cost to the state, does not prevent problem drinking nor alcohol-related hospital admissions, and it puts money into the hands of criminals and the corrupt. Prohibition is not a sensible path to follow. There are also specific consequences for the wine trade in preventing the sale of wine in South Africa.
The burden on the South African Wine Trade
Unemployment is about 36% in South Africa, with the wine trade being the second-largest contributor to agricultural exports and currently employing some 270,000 people it would seem like monumental stupidity to add such a large number of people to South Africa’s unemployment figures.
As second-largest agricultural exporter the wine trade adds from R55 billion (US$3.6 billion) to the GDP of South Africa. Again this is not an insignificant figure to just toss on the scrap heap.
By last Autumn direct losses to the South African wine trade were already in excess of R7 billion (US$460 million). These losses include money that would have gone into the pockets, stomachs and education of deprived and financially insecure vineyard workers, their families and the local communities where vineyards are based.
The South African wine trade have reported that by the end of last year 80 wineries and nearly 140 grape growing organisations were having to undergo financial re-organisation or had basically just closed down.
Finally, just to give you some idea of the massive scale of the problem for the South African wine trade, there are currently over 650 million litres of, largely unsold, unshipped wine in storage. This is equivalent to the twice the country’s entire wine consumption, of locals and tourists, in 2019!
Not only is a huge amount of money to have tied up in waiting to sell, but also it is taking up space that will be needed for the 2021 harvest, due to start at the end of the months. There is talk of many vineyards just being left unharvested with their fruit being left to rot simply because there is nowhere to store any more wine.
Lack of tourism
The lack of tourism to South Africa and its wine regions in 2020 and moving into 2021 cannot really be helped. COVID-19 spread has to be stopped by whatever means possible and unfortunately this means closing down most countries to most visitors.
This does have repercussions for the South African wine industry. The approximately 10 million visitors annual to South Africa nationally account for 15% of wineries’ total revenue.
When looking at smaller, boutique wineries this proportion of income is much higher. Small wineries obtain just over 40% of their income from tourists. These are the wineries that have most constraints on storage space, smaller cash reserves and so on. Consequently, the larger loss in income from tourists during lockdown is disproportionately painful to them.
#SaveSAwine – all of us outside South Africa can help
Whilst prohibition is in place, and the government follows such a neoprohibitionist agenda, the key to #SaveSAwine can only be pursued by exporting wine. Those of us who live outside South Africa must buy South African wine to #SaveSAwine.
South Africa produces a wide range of styles at all price points that will satisfy any drinker. So when you go shopping for a bottle at the supermarket or a case at a specialist whilst merchant, ask for South African wine.
The South African wines can be bought for prices we are unlikely to see again, so if your supermarket or wine merchant does not have South African wine, ask them to get some! We can all act to #SaveSAwine, but it may take more action than plucking a bottle from a shelf. But that action is so easy! Ask for a bottle to be there to be plucked!
Elitistreview will attempt to do its bit by largely reviewing South African wines for the foreseeable future. I love South African wines, and I am happy to guide you to the best of those I try.
Keep watching the website, follow me on Twitter (@elitistreview) or follow me on Facebook and you will see when I post new articles. They will all be sure-fire winners, the cream of the South African crop; I will try to serve you all well as we involved in a noble endeavour!
South Africa is quite nascent on the international fine wine scene, but the wines are excellent and worthy of effort to save. I am only one writer, writing about the best wines I try. Buy those wines I recommend, or just buy any South African wine; together we can #SaveSAwine!