Having your country shut down by Covid-19 is certainly rough.
Having your entire industry, livelihood, income, and 2020 harvest at risk of ruin makes it that much harder. South Africa was the only major wine producing country to declare alcohol not an essential product, enabling a blanket country-wide ban on the production, sale, and shipping of alcohol during the Covid-19 lockdown.
After the government declared a state of emergency on March 15, the ban on liquor came into effect on March 27, in an effort to reduce the pressure on hospitals due to Covid-19, and to theoretically prevent a rise in domestic violence. With many winemakers still finishing harvest, the order to cease all production was pretty terrifying. Fortunately, thanks to some very vocal and quick thinking folks at VinPro, the body that represents 2,500 of the country’s grape growers and wine producers, they were able to reach a special dispensation to allow vintners to complete the final tonnes of harvest prior to level 5 lockdown commencing.
Restrictions were not eased until the beginning of May, when the country moved into level 4 lockdown, allowing the movement of goods, including wine to the ports for export. It will still be a slow, many-months process to ramp exports back up to regular levels, as physical distancing rules will slow everything from bottling lines to the physical transport itself. However, it is a start to get wines flowing across borders again. WOSA estimates that export revenues lost during the ban amount to ZAR1bn ($57m USD).
As of June 1, the country moved into level 3 lockdown, allowing for the sale, dispensing, and transportation of liquor within South Africa.
Unquestionably the government did what it thought was right to protect its citizens, and put safety first. According to John Hopkins University, as of May 28, South Africa had 25,937 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 552 deaths.
Now, and in the years to come, it's time to rebuild, slowly, positively forward. Globally, we can use our purchasing dollars wisely to support smaller, family-owned operations, and those at risk of losing their vineyards, staff, business, and more. I've been fortunate to travel to South Africa at least once each year since 2015, closely tracking the independent winemakers and growers representing the country's modern, vibrant, and exciting wine industry. I'm heartened to see more and more of these wines on shelves across Canada, and watch the word spread for these world-class wines. This week's expanded Top 10 highlights wines available in BC that you can and should seek out, and support, especially now.
*June 20, 2020 is International #DrinkChenin Day. In honour of the legendary grape, we'll posting all of our recently reviewed Chenin Blanc from around the globe on GOW on June 19.