Catching Up On South Africa’s Wine Industry

Here lately I’ve realized that South Africa has slipped under my radar. It is not like I have been ignoring it but I haven’t been checking the usual places for news, either. So, what’s been happening with SA wine and where is it going?

An article edited by Andrew Beatty, who is a news editor in South Africa, was recently published, and it was this article that made me wonder what’s up with one of my favorite new world wine growers. The article explains that things are changing for the better in SA, overall. He quotes a few people that explain that wine quality has not been what it soon could be.

At the end of the article they say in passing that the rand is especially weak lately, compared to the US dollar. One small-economics-course-worth of reading later (curse you wikipedia for your addictive knowledge!), I realized just how much of a difference there is between South Africa and the states. As it stands, for instance, vineyard workers are given about 12 Rand per hour. This doesn’t sound so bad until you look at the exchange rate: 10 rand per dollar! Now I understand that in other countries it can be much worse, but I had thought that South Africa was pretty much a developed country.

Apparently these wages are the result of an increase in minimum wage, not a decrease; an article on Bloomberg explains that the South African government agreed to a 52 % increase in minimum wage after some intense strikes in various industry sectors, including agriculture. This, according to them, is a “growing risk,” which makes me a little angry when I think about it. “How dare those workers demand livable wages,” is what I read.

Finally seeing South Africa for the less-than-steady country that it is (comparatively), I tried looking a little on the bright side. The weakened rand, for instance, apparently helps exporters. Also, the grape harvest for 2013 was 5.4% larger than last year. An article by Wine Spectator covers more, explaining that the weather was very good for both the start and the finish but that the middle required some extra effort due to humidity. Overall things look hopeful for both both quality and quantity.

As for the political climate that the grapes are grown in, things could be better. While things will most likely improve it is hard for me to look at South Africa in the same way. Now that my eyes have been opened I feel like I should give every new world wine country a closer look. Perhaps I will.

Photo by Antonio Olmedo