The Buyer
How Great British Braai Off can help South African wine

How Great British Braai Off can help South African wine

As the lockdown continues in South Africa, that prohibits the sale of any wine domestically, the impact on the country’s wine industry worsens by the day to the extent that 10s of producers are said to be close to collapse. But now that exports are allowed we can all do our bit to support South Africa at this time by simply drinking and promoting its wine. Next weekend sees two interlinked campaigns. On May 22 Wines of South Africa is urging us to get involved with its Spectacular South Africa campaign and then over the weekend Nik Darlington explains why he has created the ‘Great British Braai Off’ to help celebrate all that South Africa means to us, by doing what they do best – coming together over a braai with beers and bottles of wine.

Nik Darlington
17th May 2020by Nik Darlington
posted in Opinion,

Here’s how Graft Wine’s Nik Darlington hopes importers, wine merchants, chefs and the great British public can help and get behind next weekend’s ‘Braai Off’

To me the whole idea of the braai encapsulates so much that we have lost, at least while we grapple with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic: physical companionship, free assembly, shared experiences, the great outdoors.

To South Africans at least, the braai is more than just a barbecue. It wouldn’t be orotund to say the braai is an institution, a way of life even.

The Radford Dale and Reverie winemaker Jacques de Klerk recently told me, paraphrasing Lily Bollinger, “when we’re happy, we braai, when we’re sad, we braai, when we’re free, we braai, when we’re in lockdown, we braai!”

“What makes a good #braai great?” Baie dankie @reveriechenin 👊🏽 #GBbraaiOff

— Great British Braai Off (@BraaiOff) May 8, 2020

And in a country where everything it seems has some political resonance the braai is a powerful political statement.

South Africa is home to multiple ethnicities and at least35 five languages, of which 10 are considered official. Unifying such ethnic and cultural diversity is always going to be an uphill struggle, especially in a country with such a troubled recent past.

And yet. The braai is depicted as the rainbow nation’s unifying symbol, with even the national holiday Heritage Day – first celebrated on 24th September 1995 – rebranded as “National Braai Day”. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is its patron.

A time to help

So, when I was thinking how best to help South Africa’s wine producers, the braai was the obvious hook. Because South Africa’s wine producers desperately need our help. The whole country has been in coronavirus lockdown for two months with some of the strictest quarantine rules in the world.

These rules were enforced to protect the healthcare system and save lives. With high levels of TB and HIV among the population, many of whom live in tightly packed informal settlements, this has to be remembered. With very few fatalities, the government’s decisive action appears to be working.

Nonetheless, the effects of lockdown on South Africa’s already recessionary economy are being keenly felt and especially in the wine, tourism and hospitality sectors. Last week, Die Burger newspaper reported that as many as 80 farms were going to the wall.

This is in large part because it seems uniquely in the world, South Africa’s wine producers have been subjected to both domestic and export sales bans.

The 2020 harvest was completed in the nick of time and we all know that harvest is an expensive time for winemakers. There are lots of bills to be paid and not necessarily much money yet coming in, so the total ban on sales has come at perhaps the worst possible time.

The lockdown in South Africa is also having a devastating impact on already vulnerable local communities. Winemakers have pulled together to help, like Bruce Jack and his Headstart charity that is switching resources to help supply food banks to local communities (see below on how to donate)

Wine is the second biggest agricultural export for South Africa, contributing 49 billion rand (£245 million) per year and supporting nearly 300,000 jobs, mostly in the Western Cape.

Of the top 1o wine producing countries, South Africa’s export ban appears to be unique. It is believed it has cost producers at least a billion rand (£5 million) in export sales.

Thankfully that export ban has now lifted, and wines are gradually on the move. However, South African wine importers around the world are facing their own problems with hospitality sectors closed down and fierce headwinds making planning and inventory management challenging.

Unless a producer is predominantly exposed to faster-moving retail channels at the moment, the ending of the export ban is more likely to create a trickle of cash rather than the flood they sorely require.

UK has a key role to play

The UK is the world’s biggest buyer of South African wines as well as a key source of wine tourists. So many of us know and love the country and its wines. Here is how we can help.

The Great British Braai Off is a new national campaign to get the public braaing over the next Bank Holiday weekend, 23rd to 25th May, with a fine bottle of South African wine on the go.

There is a website and social media channels on Twitter and Instagram that already feature many videos and braai tips from several South African winemakers as well as recipes from chefs such as the Buyer’s very own Roger Jones.

This is a truly inclusive campaign. I am thrilled that the likes of Elliot Awin of wine agency Awin Barratt Siegel, for example, is already heavily involved and throwing a big virtual braai and wine event with a range of their South African producers on Sunday 24th May.

If you have a burning desire to share your best braai tips, recipes, wine pairings, and want to use the campaign to promote your wine shop, your producers and your wines then please get in touch and we can feature them on the website and in social channels.

We hope to see as many wine importers and wine merchants as possible promoting and celebrating South African wine in the run-up to the Bank Holiday weekend, when with we hope plenty of warmth and sunshine we can all head outside and braai, if not actually together on this occasion then as part of a national shared experience.

  • You can help Nik spread the word about the Great British Braai Off next Bank Holiday weekend by following and tagging @BraaiOff and the hashtag #GBbraaiOff in your tweets.

  • On Friday you can also show your support for South Africa and its wine industry by joining in the Spectacular South Africa campaign being run by Wines of South Africa that is asking us all to get behind South Africa on May 22 be it by running a tasting, doing a special promotion, sharing stories on social media and most of all drinking South African wine. You can access a range of point of sale and promotional materials here.
  • It might also be a good opportunity to share the equivalent of a bottle of a wine and support two of the food bank charities that The Buyer is supporting that are backed by the South African wine community.