Coronavirus and SA wine: Johan Reyneke of Reyneke Wines

By , 14 May 2020

Johan Reyneke of Reyneke Wines.

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 Johan Reyneke of Reyneke Wines in Stellenbosch replied:

How badly has Coronavirus crisis impacted your business?
It basically, almost overnight, closed the tap on the cash flow of our business. This is obviously a very serious threat to any business. I’ve always maintained that sustainability means looking after nature, people and money in equal amounts. However, as this crisis has shown, when you run out of money, things can get bad fast. It’s also really difficult to make good decisions when you’re under financial pressure. I am however very fortunate that I also farm and at least got my harvest in before the lockdown started.

How many wineries do you foresee closing as a result of the pandemic?
Quite a few I’m afraid. To be honest I find it really hard to think about this. Not the numbers but the people. Whom of my friends in the industry will and won’t survive? How many of the good people who spent years in our vineyards and cellars won’t make it? Who will we lose to disease and who will we lose to poverty? Troublesome thoughts in difficult times. Fortunately I also know that although things will probably get worse before they get better, this time will also pass. Sometime in the future the good times will be upon us again and when that happens we will definitely appreciate it more.

What plans do you have in place to get going again once restrictions are eased? How will doing business be different?
For now exports have opened. For us this is huge. A very big thank you to those who helped enable this. I think our most immediate priority is simply to get cash flowing again. Next step would probably be focused on domestic on-line sales. We also need to hold hands with the supermarkets, wine shops, restaurants who helped us in the past. From a risk point of view our long term strategy should be one of diversification. As a biodynamic farmer I know very well that the more diverse a natural environment is the more stable it becomes. Stable should not be confused with static though. We will always be living with uncertainty and change is inevitable. Accept it and be ready for it.

What will the South African wine landscape look like after the pandemic? Will the industry recover quickly or will it be changed forever?
I think it will definitely change. Recovery will probably depend on how long the crisis will continue, and how the South African government will handle things going forward, but I don’t think it’s going to be a quick recovery. Having said that, don’t write us off. We’re no strangers to adversity and there’s an underlying resilience which always come to the fore when our backs are against the wall. There are a lot of people in our industry who are driven by passion rather than money. One must also not forget that prior to the crisis we were getting in good shape from an international branding point of view. We’ve upped our quality, offered great value and succeeded in making waves around the wine world. We’ve actually built up great relationships with some of our international colleagues over the last couple of years. Just a week or so ago our friends in the UK rallied around a “drink South African” campaign when they heard we weren’t allowed to sell anymore wine. Kudos to them for doing this despite being much deeper in the Corona curve than we are. Last but not least I must tell you about a call I got yesterday morning from a gentleman called Sakkie. He heads up one of the teams who from time to time help us with bottling and labeling in the cellar. Sakkie called to say thank you for the food parcels we arranged for his staff. He then went further and told me that one of the ladies told him that it was the first time since lockdown began that she could afford to eat a potato and how wonderful the sensation was when she put it into her mouth. I think this will motivate me to hang in there no matter what. This is not a race to the top anymore. This is life busy happening.

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
Michael White of Highlands Road

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