The Covid-19 pandemic has for so many people around the world been the most challenging and damaging time both in their working and their personal lives. But it has also been a uniquely inspiring few months as individuals and businesses have stepped up to the mark and gone way and beyond to help others in their industry get through this extraordinary period. Those are the people The Buyer wants to highlight and show our appreciation for in our new ‘Raise a Glass To’ series where we can all collectively stop and pay our respects to their achievements and actions during the pandemic. Starting here today with Rico Basson, managing director of Vinpro, who has led the South African wine industry through its huge difficulties during the lockdown.
Rico Basson, managing director of Vinpro, is the first to receive The Buyer’s new ‘Raise a Glass To’ award on behalf of the South African wine industry.
Around the world every country has had to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic in their own way, taking different approaches in how they have locked down its people in order to safeguard their health and stop the spread of the virus.
The global wine industry has surprisingly been arguably one of the least affected as the vast majority of wine producing countries saw the production, distribution and selling of wine as an ‘essential service’. With one big exception. South Africa.
The country’s wine industry is now in a desperate state after a series of national lockdowns has brought many producers to their knees and the fear that hundreds could close, with the loss of thousands of jobs.
This, however, is not through any lack of effort, or combined action, to make the industry’s case to the government. In fact it was through the direct lobbying of the South African wine authorities, led by Rico Basson, managing director of Vinpro, the association that represents over 2,500 of the country’s grape growers and producers, in partnership with its other chief agricultural bodies and Wines of South Africa, that the initial wine lockdown was lifted.
That was first implemented on March 27, when the South African government banned the total production, movement, distribution, exporting and selling of wine and alcohol.
But thanks to the concerted efforts of Basson and the wine lobbying team the industry was able to win back a series of concessions.
First production was allowed to continue, primarily to allow the 2020 harvest to be completed. Then the export ban, which meant no South African wine could leave the country, was lifted on April 7 after a hugely damaging five weeks – that alone is estimated to have cost the industry over R2 billion.
The domestic ban on selling of alcohol, across any channel, including online, continued before being lifted on June 1 after a series of meetings with the drinks and wine industries, with Basson again leading wine’s cause.
Finally the country could get back to some sense of normal trading, but even then it was not possible to buy alcohol or drink wine in restaurants.
Only for the drinks and wine industry to be stunned on July with the news the domestic ban on any sales was being re-introduced due to fears of health, and placing too many demands on the health service as the number of cases of Covid-19 have escalated.
Whilst the industry is united in its support of the government to take the steps it needs to safeguard national health, it is calling for a more balanced approach from the government and an acceptance that its actions are going to ruin the businesses of hundreds of wine producers and the thousands of people they employ. As Ross Sleet, managing director, of Rascallion Wines, says today in a video interview on The Buyer it’s the equivalent of taking a “sledgehammer to crack a walnut”.
After the initial lockdown Basson and Vinpro feared up to 18,000 jobs could be lost along with 80 wineries and 350 grape growers. It now believes this current lockdown could see ??? go to the wall.
Basson is now thought to be part of an industry-wide effort to get legal support for its appeal to the government to give the wine sector some much needed concessions with a High Court action.
What we can do
As the South African industry does what it can at home it falls on the international wine community to play its part and rally behind all the producers it works with to support, promote and most of all sell as much South African wine as we can. Yes, every country has been hit by Covid-19, but none to the devastating extent there has been in South Africa. You can also have your say on social media using the hashtags #supportlocal #drinksouthafrican #sawinelockdown.
It is why today, The Buyer, is doing what it can to shine the spotlight on the country and its wine people by asking us all to raise a virtual glass of wine to Rico Basson and Vinpro on behalf of all wine producers and the people who work across the South African wine community.