'Please, Mr President - help us in the wine industry'

Nivashni Nair Senior reporter
The biggest concern among producers now is the surplus of about 250 million litres of uncontracted wine, with a harvest under way.
The biggest concern among producers now is the surplus of about 250 million litres of uncontracted wine, with a harvest under way.
Image: supplied

A worker in the Stellenbosch wine region sent an impassioned plea to President Cyril Ramaphosa on social media when harvest season arrived a week ago.

Jan-Nico Coetzee on Tuesday took to Facebook to appeal to Ramaphosa to rethink the alcohol ban, which has been put in place to alleviate the pressure on hospital trauma units during the Covid-19 second wave.

“Harvest season is here in the winelands. It's a time of year on the agricultural calendar that is always filled with a lot of hype and excitement. Through the past 12 months, cover crop was planted, vineyards fertilised and watered when needed, pruned and canopy management was done. Since my school days I dreamt of this job, went to study and paid off my study loan diligently.

Jan-Nico Coetzee took to Facebook to appeal to President Cyril Ramaphosa to rethink the alcohol ban.
Jan-Nico Coetzee took to Facebook to appeal to President Cyril Ramaphosa to rethink the alcohol ban.
Image: supplied

“Never in my wildest dreams did I foresee that an agricultural industry I so love and adore [would] be brought to its knees,” he wrote.

Coetzee appealed to the “enthusiastic farmer in the president”.

“I know you have a keen passion for farming and agriculture. Agriculture is at the heart of this beautiful land of ours. Grapes, sugar cane, hops, grain or maize are all used in the alcohol industry we hold dear to produce wine, gin, beer, whiskey, brandy and many more.

“A farmer navigates many worries brought on by mother nature in the form of disease, pests, floods, drought, hail, wind or fire. Government regulations should not be one of those worries. When our hospitality friends close shop, it has a knock-on effect - their staff, families, suppliers and farmers.

“Mr President, this morning I want to speak to the enthusiastic farmer in you. At breakfast, lunch or dinner today, have a look at your plate with ingredients from farmers, be it in the pork, chicken, beef, fruit or vegetable communities. Maybe there's a glass of red next to it (pinotage I hope), it's good for the heart I hear. Each ingredient on your plate and in the glass you see was lovingly nurtured and produced by a farmer,” Coetzee said.

Coetzee told TimesLIVE that he appealed to the president because he felt “an open, honest, and heartfelt letter” was needed.

“I love this beautiful country of ours. Hope and resilience surrounds us every single day, and I know and believe that we will get through this period. We are a tough as nails rainbow nation that will rise again. We will! We just need some help to get there, and that was the reason for my plea.

“We have been almost 19 weeks cumulatively in the ban. I felt an open, honest, and heartfelt letter towards our president was needed. He is a passionate farmer by heart just like me,” he said. 

Surplus poses 'significant risk'

Vinpro, a non-profit body representing South African wine producers, said the 2021 harvest kicked off in some regions a week ago.

“We expect a good harvest, very much on par with the 2020 harvest or even slightly bigger,” said MD Rico Basson.

“Since March 2020, there has been a ban on the legal sale of alcohol locally for more than 19 weeks, leading to a loss of more than R8bn in sales revenue.

“As a result, the industry now has more than 640 million litres of wine in stock (65% of a normal harvest), which poses a significant risk to the harvest that kicked off and with insufficient cellar space for this.”

He said the further seven-week ban would have a significant impact, as another 45 million litres could be added to the stock figure.

“The biggest concern among producers now is the wine surplus of about 250 million litres of uncontracted wine and a harvest under way. Solutions would be to increase our exports, or deliver grapes for grape concentrate, which is not ideal, due to lower prices. Producers will have to make tough decisions in the vineyards with cellar capacity filled to the max.

“The slower moving stock will influence cash flow and create huge challenges in this regard, additional bridging finance now comes at a cost. This all puts the industry’s sustainability under pressure,” Basson said.

TimesLIVE


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