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Furore over wineries’ shut-down

The wine and beer industry are suffering major losses due to the ban on alcohol sales as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Langeberg

The Robertson Wine Valley (RWV) is closing down due to the devastating effects the coronavirus pandemic is having on the wine tourism industry.

The organisation will close its doors from 1 July until further notice. The popular annual Wine On The River festival has also been cancelled.

“Out of concern for the health and safety of our members, employees, and you, our loyal visitors, we are devastated to announce that the Wine On The River festival cannot take place this year,” a statement from RWV explained. “The event was scheduled for 9-11 October in Robertson. If you have booked accommodation for this particular weekend, kindly postpone your visit and do not cancel.”

This news follows a webinar on Monday 11 May to provide an update on the country’s Tourism Sector Recovery Plan as well as the implications of the Risk Adjusted Plan (Levels) on the tourism sector, explained Sisa Ntshona, CEO of SA Tourism, which organised it, with the focus on #SaveTourism.

“We have taken this step with a heavy heart, but the health and safety of everybody involved in the event has to be paramount,” said Peter de Wet, Chairman of RWV. “The risks are simply too high.

“We will continue to work hard for the future, to bring you the unique wine-experiences and events you love. Thank you for your commitment over the last 36 years. It is no secret that the Covid-19 lockdown has been a challenge to all South Africans and we wish everyone the best.”

News of the closure hit social media, through which wine enthusiasts have expressed how baffled and broken-hearted they are over the move.

“I remember the days when we went to wine tastings, festivals and other events, all in celebration of the Robertson region and the tourism industry in South Africa,” Freda Jacobs from Robertson said on Facebook. “This news is shocking.”

Overberg

Frieda Lloyd, Cape Whale Coast Tourism Manager, said the wine industry of her region is suffering no less than other wineries. “Our region relies so heavily on tourism, of which wine tourism is one of the major components,” she said. “It was only a year ago that we learnt the Hemel en Aarde is the fourth most visited wine route in South Africa.”

Lloyd says tourism was the first to be impacted. “We don’t see the silver lining yet because there is no indication of when flights are opening and interprovincial through fare will be allowed. It is the through fare that drives tourism. We need travellers. We are not going to see a hint of recovery unless people can start moving again.”

She says cellars are more than centres of employment. “Our winery owners focus on staff development and skills training,” Lloyd says. One of the local wineries was nominated one of the top 50 wine experiences in the world. “The economy of this region is entrenched in tourism. In our region we link to Elgin and Grabouw. Botrivier Winery is our gateway. From Hermanus, one continues to Stanford and Elim.

Lloyd says Overberg is so much more than just wine. “It’s an experience and a getaway that people really want to enjoy when they take a day or weekend off. The wineries offer a variety and diversity of product that one can hardly experience anywhere else. It is a value industry that stretches far beyond wine.”

Swartland

According to Werner Engelbrecht, CEO of Riebeek Valley Wine Co in the Swartland, the loss of income due to the lockdown is substantial.

“Due to the ban on local and foreign sales of wine we were unable to earn any income during this period,” he explained. Engelbrecht says the relaxation on export restrictions has been a welcome relief.

“We are very relieved that the industry is allowed to export wine. There are many orders in place since we were unable to export wine during April. I find that overseas markets are also struggling with sales. Our traditional European market restaurants are also closed. This has a negative impact on sales. In any case we are very pleased we are able to serve our overseas clients and retain our market share as this is a very important part of our sales.”

Nevertheless, Engelbrecht says it will take at least 18 months to recover from the losses. “Loss of income in the wine industry has a very negative impact on cash flow for the next three to six months. It will also be very difficult to generate sales later in the year, which means our sales will be much lower. Larger volumes of wine will also have to be carried over to next year. Even if local sales are allowed, we believe sales will not return to the volumes like before the isolation period.”

While online wine sales are not currently permitted, Engelbrecht encouraged consumers to continue placing their online orders to be processed and shipped as soon as restrictions are lifted.

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