South African Winemakers Exhale as Sales Prohibition Ends

The government’s alcohol ban, originally implemented during the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, has inflicted millions of dollars in damage

South African Winemakers Exhale as Sales Prohibition Ends
Duncan Savage says the end of the alcohol sales ban arrived just in time, with his newest wines just weeks away from release. (Maree Louw)
Aug 18, 2020

South African vintners breathed an immense sigh of relief yesterday. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government began allowing alcohol sales again, albeit with some limitations, after a months-long ban.

Unsurprisingly, vintners are pretty excited. "Stoked!" exclaimed Cape Town winemaker Duncan Savage. "[We're] releasing the new vintage on the 27th [of August], so we're pretty relieved about the ban being lifted."

The coronavirus pandemic has put South Africa’s small winery owners on a roller coaster. A ban on domestic sales and exports of all alcohol was imposed in March as lockdowns began. Exports were removed from the ban in May. And on June 1, the government allowed domestic sales. But only a week and a half later, a sales ban was enacted again. Trading and the distribution of alcohol of any kind were completely prohibited.

The government said the measure was an effort to keep hospital beds available for COVID patients by reducing the number of alcohol-related injuries. But the ban and the ever-changing rules sowed confusion and frustration among vintners.


Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.


"I understand the government’s sentiment," said Anthony Hamilton Russell, proprietor at Hamilton Russell in Hemel-en-Aarde. "In tight conditions, in poorer homes, there was a concern that abuse of alcohol would lead to an increase in violence." He added that he and his fellows face a challenge of explaining that it isn’t the wine industry that is contributing to the misuse of alcohol, while acknowledging that it is hard to separate the categories.

A partial reprieve as cases decline

This week’s end to the ban came as the country has seen a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases and is entering the next phase of easing restrictions. However, some limits remain. Alcoholic beverages may be consumed in restaurants and bars until 10 p.m. only. Stores can sell alcohol for off-premise consumption from Monday to Thursday, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Gatherings of more than 50 people are still restricted and a nighttime curfew is still in effect.

Vintners can now resume operations and work through the backlog. "[We’re] packing orders like crazy," Chris Alheit of Alheit in Hemel-en-Aarde told Wine Spectator.

But although many are happy, they believe the ban’s full effects have yet to be felt. "There is no doubt that the sales ban hangover is far from cured," said Hamilton Russell. He believes there will be discounting, job losses, accelerated reduction in acres planted and other impacts they haven’t even imagined.

Some of those effects have already begun. Some brewing and spirits companies have canceled planned investments and expansions in the country. Heineken, the Dutch brewing giant, announced that it would shut down its entire production in South Africa. As for wine, Vinpro, a trade group representing 2,500 vintners and other wine companies, estimates the industry has lost more than $400 million since March.

More COVID-19

See More

Harvest During COVID's Second Wave: Spanish Wineries Fight for the 2020 Vintage

Sep 14, 2020

Champagne Grapples with COVID and Slumping Demand

Sep 11, 2020

Tom Seaver, Hall of Fame Pitcher and Napa Vintner, Dies at 75

Sep 2, 2020

Harvest in a Time of Flames and Pestilence—Another Challenging California Vintage

Aug 27, 2020

A Wine Industry on the Edge: Live Chat with Anthony Hamilton Russell

Aug 4, 2020

News COVID-19 Disasters Economy Legal and Legislative Issues South Africa

You Might Also Like

His Dream Is Now Ours: Legendary Vineyard Manager Ulises Valdez Sr.'s Children Carry on His Legacy

His Dream Is Now Ours: Legendary Vineyard Manager Ulises Valdez Sr.'s Children Carry on His Legacy

In vineyards across Sonoma and at Valdez Family Wines, Valdez Sr.'s widow and four children …

Sep 18, 2020
2019 Bordeaux Futures Face Difficult Present

2019 Bordeaux Futures Face Difficult Present

A typical Bordeaux futures campaign starts around May and drags slowly through June. But …

Sep 30, 2020
Restaurant Award Winners That Have Permanently Closed During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Restaurant Award Winners That Have Permanently Closed During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A running list of wine-focused dining spots that have been forced to shut for good as the …

Aug 14, 2020
Does This Glass of Beer Make Me Look Fat?

Does This Glass of Beer Make Me Look Fat?

A new study finds wine drinkers had lower body mass indexes than those who avoid alcohol, …

Sep 16, 2020
How Will Weeks of Wildfire Smoke on the West Coast Impact the 2020 Vintage?

How Will Weeks of Wildfire Smoke on the West Coast Impact the 2020 Vintage?

Blazes have left smoke hanging over the region for weeks, and some vintners worry it could …

Sep 16, 2020
Destin Charity Wine Auction Goes Virtual for 2020 and Raises $1.35 Million

Destin Charity Wine Auction Goes Virtual for 2020 and Raises $1.35 Million

Record-breaking lots and a new virtual format highlighted the 15th annual auction, raising …

Sep 15, 2020