The South African wine industry is an engine of transformation, don't switch it off

Alert Level 3 in South Africa has been indefinitely extended, which continues to prohibit the domestic sale of any alcoholic drink for on- and off-consumption. This means our wine region is effectively shuttered, with wide-ranging consequences not only for producers but also for the tourism and hospitality industries as a whole. But this is not just about business; this ban directly effects upliftment programmes as well as NGOs whose sole reason for existence is to work within the Cape winelands to bring about change. Banning the sale of wine, means taking away funds from organisations actively making a difference in disadvantaged communities. 
Wine can be a tool for good, a conduit for transformation. created the #wineforgood website in June 2016 as a place to host all the positive stories from the South African wine industry, and includes everything from feeding schemes, education, housing and more – the examples are manifold.
One such organisation is the Pebbles Project. Pebbles supports the education of children living in farm worker communities (wine and fruit) through each phase of their life from pre-birth through to the age of 24.  The non-profit provides educational programmes as well as nutrition, health and social support services to approximately 1400 children in Stellenbosch, Somerset West, Wellington, Citrusdal and Hermanus. Their programmes include antenatal support for pregnant women, First Thousand Days, Early Childhood Development, School Enrichment and Early Adulthood as well as opening its first school in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley in 2019 for 63 learners from the local farm communities.  Other services and activities include a mobile resource centre, a fleet of mobile learning centres, computers, sport, art and life skills. 
“There is a huge amount of good work being done in the wine industry, either through initiatives put in place by individual farm owners or through their support of local non-profit organisations such as Pebbles,” shared Director Sophia Warner.
“We fear that the continued alcohol sales ban could have a deeply negative effect on the livelihoods of the farm owners and farm workers, and consequently the educational success of their children.  It could also have a hugely detrimental effect on non-profit organisations, such as Pebbles, working in the wine industry as a result of reduced financial support.
Warner paints a bleak reality of the implications the ban has already wrought. “As a result of the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, some partner farms were already forced to reduce the financial support they give to Pebbles as they are unable to continue to pay for services or maintenance of the educational facilities on their farms.  
“The second lockdown and wine sales restrictions will have an even deeper impact and we predict many more farms will struggle to cover staff salaries or to contribute to running costs of their ECD centres or After-School Clubs. This will have a devastating effect on Pebbles as the organisation relies on contributions from the farms to be able to offer the full package of education support programmes.
“Many wine farm owners are committed to the upliftment of the workers on their farms and welcome the input from Pebbles to assist them to achieve this.  Higher education levels of children on the farms opens the door to many more opportunities, and this enables the whole community to develop and grow in skill and financial security. The wine industry as a whole is a big supporter of Pebbles and much of the organisation’s funding comes from wine-related businesses or individuals.”
Pebbles is also a beneficiary of the Cape Wine Auction, an annual event that raises MILLIONS for education in the Cape Winelands. For obvious reasons the auction is sadly not going ahead this year. In 2020 over R17 million was raised and allocated to 28 child-focused beneficiaries across the winelands. To date the auction has raised over R105 million for education charities. What makes this even more remarkable was that the initiative was created by private people working within the wine industry, without any government assistance. 
Upliftment and education happens within actual wine business itself too, the Cape Winemakers’ Guild Protégé Programme is a three-year internship, which provides aspiring winemakers and viticulturists the opportunity to work alongside and be mentored by the members of the Guild. Since its establishment in 2006, 30 winemakers and viticulturists have participated in the Protégé Programme.
Winemaker Kiara Scott of Brookdale Estate, excelled through the programme, landing a plum position at the Paarl estate.
“Working in the wine industry has had a positive influence on my life,” she commented. “It has shaped the way I view the world. It has given me a great respect for our people that work the land. They are passionate and hard working and this adds value to our wines. 
“There are many great initiatives in the wine industry that give back. From projects like the CWG, Son of the Soil Leadership Foundation and even smaller personal initiatives on farms like we have at Brookdale Estate for example. We give all of our employees the opportunity to apply for driver’s license as well as cover all of the costs involved. This may seem small but I remember when I first got my driver’s license; I became more independent and it allowed me to be able to enter into many other open doors.
“As an industry we are in touch with our land and its people and this is evident when looking at the many initiatives where the the goal is to give back.”
Leading the charge in the giving back stakes is the South African Wine Industry Transformation Unit (SAWITU). Over the past six months its provided emergency Covid-19 relief (a cool R1.35 million) to 15 black-owned wine enterprises, furthermore 15 black-owned farms received emergency relief totalling R450 000. 
Said SAWITU’s Transformation Operations Manager Wendy Petersen: “Acutely aware of the importance of the farmworker in the value chain and the fact that many of them went unpaid for a considerable period of time, we rallied to the cry and provided more than R500 000 in support to farmworkers and farmworker communities in the past six months.” 
With the ban reinstated – and no end in sight, the losses will continue to come. Disturbingly harvest is but a few weeks away, with many producers citing they may just have to cut the grapes off and let them fall to the ground – as they already have surplus stock from the previous bans. 
Industry body Vinpro reported startling figures: The previous two bans had a devastating impact on the wine industry with a loss of more than R7.5 billion in sales revenue, significant job losses and a number of wineries and tourism facilities being forced to shut their doors. As a result the industry now has more than 250 million litres of uncontracted wine, with the 2021 harvest to commence within the next two weeks, which will place further strain on businesses’ already dire financial position. This situation, combined with the third ban, will do untold economic damage to the wine sector and the 290,000 livelihoods it supports.
If you’re reading this in a country where the sale of wine is allowed, make your next choice South African and help this engine of transformation keep running. Wine is not simply a beverage – it’s education, housing, food. For many, it’s life itself.
- Malu Lambert