As we all come together today to celebrate South African wine and the #SpectacularSouthAfrica initiative organised by Wines of South Africa, it is also timely to reflect on the scale of the impact the country’s lockdown, to try and contain the spread of Covid-19, is having on its wine industry. Here Judy Bakker, general and financial manager at Bouchard Finlayson, one of the country’s most historic estates, assesses the steps it has taken to adapt to life during Covid-19.
Bouchard Finlayson is working closely with Seckford Agencies to maximise its sales in the UK at a time when it can’t sell any wine domestically under the South African government’s lockdown.
How had 2020 been to date before the Covid-19 lockdown happened?
Prior to Covid, we were having an excellent year – both locally and in our export markets. Our harvest went well and we were very lucky to have finished it before our lockdown began.
How have you been directly impacted by the outbreak of Covi-19 as a winery and your overall business?
Fortunately, to date, none of our staff have been affected health wise. Our sales, however have been significant affected as no wine sales were permitted in April, and export sales have only been allowed from the beginning of May. The decrease in sales drops straight to our bottom line and has really squeezed our cash flow.
What steps have you taken to keep going, protect staff and keep working in your vineyards?
To protect our staff we have implemented all the normal health and safety measures – masks, gloves, social distancing, disinfecting etc. We have also limited staff on the farm to those who absolutely need to be there.
How do you see the situation evolving over the coming weeks and months?
This is a difficult question to answer as many people believe that we will only see the peak of this virus hit the South African population in August or September. Being able to sell to our export customers assists with cash flow, but not being able to sell locally (including online) is not sustainable for us.
How are you working with your export partners – any changes to what they are looking for?
Our export partners have also been hard hit by trading restrictions during their lockdowns. We are continually communicating with them and offering as much support as we can. We have found that the most common request is for discounted prices to stimulate online and off-trade sales (in most cases on-trade sales are not permitted in their territories).
What help would you like to see from your customers and suppliers in your key export markets?
We would like to see our export partners focus on sales in areas where they have some control, ie online and off-trade. We also really value any updates that we get from them, as it helps us build our recovery strategy with them.
Are you seeing collaboration and teamwork with other wineries at this time – any examples?
We have seen excellent collaboration in the Hemel en Aarde Valley with regard to lobbying the government to allow export sales. This was done in conjunction with Vinpro and other industry bodies and it definitely had a positive impact. We are also seeing a lot of teamwork amongst our wineries with regard to community support and working with local food banks and providing food parcels.
How has your 2020 harvest gone in terms of quality, production and volume?
We had an excellent harvest and have high expectations for this year’s vintage across all our varietals bases in what is presenting itself to our winemaker and his team.
What impact do you think there might be on prices going forward for grapes from this vintage?
It’s hard to say as it depends on the virus’s trajectory and the economic recovery period. We expect prices to normalise once the economy and disposable income recovers. Until then, we expect a downward pressure on prices.
Have you seen any increased demand from different countries?
What lessons do you think you have learned already from how this crisis?
There is no greater asset than your staff. Nothing matters more than their health and safety.
Are you pessimistic or optimistic about what the future wine industry might look like?
Optimistic. It’s hard to imagine now, but I’ve got a feeling that we will emerge stronger and wiser.
- You can show your support for South Africa this weekend with two initiatives.
- March 22 marks Spectacular South Africa day and an opportunity to shine the light on South African wines in your range and to promote wines you are drinking on social media using the #SpectacularSouthAfrica hashtag in an initiative organised by Wines of South Africa. You can access a range of point of sale and promotional materials here.
- Then over the weekend you can get your equivalent of a braai out and take part in the Great British Braai Off that has been organised by Nik Darlington of Graft Wine. It’s as straightforward as it sounds. Cook. Eat and drink South African wine and use the #GreatBritishBraaiOff hashtag. Go to its dedicated website 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.
- The Headstart Trust, which is organised by Bruce Jack.It is raising money to help communities in the Napier district. Click here to donate.