Coronavirus and SA wine: Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines
By Christian Eedes, 18 May 2020
The current conversation around Coronavirus and its effect on the South African wine industry is perhaps inevitably very emotionally charged.
We put the same set of questions to a variety of industry stakeholders with a view to obtaining a better understanding of what’s happening on the ground and also plotting a way forward. Here is how Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines replied:
How badly has Coronavirus crisis impacted your business?
I think it is premature to say. Over the past two months, we’ve run at a massive loss and it will continue but what’s currently happening is not truly the concern. Fine wine is a very long-term thing – it is not about buying bulk wine and getting a marketing pitch or a “sales angle” or a “USP” and moving quickly forward with huge return. Fine wine is a matter of developing soils and their health, the carefully planting them, waiting three years to harvest them and then aging the wines for two-plus years prior to sale so a few months is only but a percentage of the true investment. The book on fine wine is much more stretched out than the quick wine in a box story.
But, yes, there’s been a major impact and it hurts. What we need to do is continue to farm and farming is a contact sport in any event and nobody at any point said it will be easy. If you want easy, go sell cellphone chargers or washing pegs.
How many wineries do you foresee closing as a result of the pandemic?
My prayer is NOT ONE! And it is completely and utterly unnecessary, and if any winery needs to close, it won’t be as a reaction to Covid-19 but rather government’s complete ignorance to facts. I think it is clear that government had to put measures into place but to stop exports has simply no thought behind it and also to stop online wine sales which has got nothing to do with the alcohol abuse sector at large was simply not with any sound reason. The Cape Winelands is a good client of SARS and one that is well controlled and the irony is that it is not SARS that control us, we pay to have ourselves controlled in order to pay government through SAWIS and ultimately through SARS and even in that regard they rather promote the illicit trade of alcohol and cigarettes. It quite frankly baffles the mind.
What plans do you have in place to get going again once restrictions are eased? How will doing business be different?
We will just simply keep on doing what has worked the past 20 years! Hard work, an honest approach and farming better for tomorrow.
What will the South African wine landscape look like after the pandemic? Will the industry recover quickly or will it be changed forever?
Unfortunately I think the wine landscape will change a lot. The sector that will be most impacted by this will be the restaurant business and all aspects of our wine business that funnel into that sector. The biggest challenge is not going to be sales and exports but for many that have made huge investments over time to regain trust in government. Our industry requires massive cash investments – the structure of wineries are very capital-intensive. It’s also labour intensive and gives jobs to so many other industries and the ripple effect is going to be massive. The one point that is positive is that some might lose their arrogance and be more humble and that is a potential plus. The second plus is when something is that broken it might very well be that the industry thinks about actually working together and stop the factionalism. It is also easy to point at our current government and their broken framework but us in the Cape Winelands have also a frame than needs reassembly. Our only way forward to success is to work together and this and this was even a pre-Covid-19 reality!
Read other interviews:
Chris Alheit of Alheit Vineyards
Gerard Holden of Holden Manz
Johan Kruger of Kruger Family Wines
Bruwer Raats of Raats Family Wines
Mike Ratcliffe of Vilafonté
Johan Reyneke of Reyneke Wines
David Sadie of David & Nadia
Michael White of Highlands Road