With the reimposition of the ban on the sale and delivery of alcohol announced recently, there is no doubt the beer, wine and spirits industry is going to be heavily and – perhaps irreversibly – affected. Indeed, in her blog The Brewmistress, Lucy Corne writes that results released by the Craft Brewers Association Of South Africa, of their most recent member survey, indicates that 90% of South African craft breweries are in danger of closure.
While wine producers are unlikely to face such similar devastating numbers, there is no doubt they are in for a very rough ride.
We asked Cliff Collard, CEO of Wine of-the-Month Club, a few questions in this regard.
How do you think this new ban on the sale and delivery of alcohol will affect the wine industry in both the short and long term?
There are going to be job losses in the short-term. In the long term, if the ban is extended drastically there will be a large contraction in the number of producers we have. That then puts pressure on a lot of the farms who sell their grapes to independent producers, which will in turn lead to these farmers investing less in their vineyards. This will then affect quality and future production.
Is this the most pressure the wine industry has been under since WotMC started almost 35 years ago?
Yes definitely. I am not sure how many industries could survive if you told them there was a complete ban for 60 plus days (and counting) on the trade of their product.
What do you think the wine farms can and should do to ensure their survival?
As exporting is still allowed, I think that is the last hope for a lot of them to survive. I believe though that there have been many Covid related problems at the Cape Town port, which is creating a large backlog. This won’t help exports.
Is there an opportunity to develop an alcohol-free wine that tastes like the real thing in much the same way the beer industry has done? What stands in the way?
I don’t want to knock alcohol free wine, there is definitely a place for it, but to make it taste like the real thing is very difficult. Removing alcohol removes the aromas. Most of the aromas in wine are transmitted from the surface of wine by evaporating alcohol. When the alcohol is removed the aromas no longer have a delivery method. Non-alcoholic wines definitely have aromas, but for now, most are associated with their sour post fermentation flavours. You might think that the aromas shouldn’t be important… you can test how important they are if you pinch your nose the next time you taste wine.
What impact does all this have on WotMC customers?
It puts a halt on their regular supply of panel selected wines that are usually conveniently delivered to their door. On the positive side though, their packs are safely cellared with us until the ban is lifted. In which case they will be first on the delivery list with our couriers to get their backdated packs.
Are your judges still tasting and selecting for the months ahead?
Yes they are. Every Monday night they blind taste over 80 wines, the conditions are slightly different to meet all social distancing requirements, but we will be well prepared with their newest selections as soon as the ban is lifted.