Please Sir, May we South Africans Have Some More?

A new trend, reeking of self-pity and showing some shaky finger-pointing, has begun to raise its head in the South African wine industry. This extraordinarily naïve theory must be nipped in the bud before it becomes contagious, further damaging not only the image, but also the reputation of our industry’s brain-power.

Twice in the past week various wine authorities have implied that the woeful human degradation on some wine farms are the result of individuals and businesses in the wine game not paying enough for South African wine.

I stand aghast – this is the kind of self-denying blame-game any Broederbond Economist would have been proud of in the 1970’s.

The implication in an uncharacteristically useful post on www.wine.co.za is that were Systembolaget, the Swedish monopoly, paying more for South African wine, local wine farmers would be able to spend more on ensuring that all those doing menial work in the winelands would have a better standard of living.

Wines of South Africa, usually clear-thinking, similarly stated that: “Each litre of wine sold at the right price point contributes to the successful growth of the industry, which directly translates into a flourishing industry where all its stakeholders, including its workers, are supported.

Two things here. Firstly, under what obligation is anyone to pay more for a product than what a seller is offering it at? It is the seller who determines and accepts the price. And the buyer, on the other hand, simply pays the amount he or she thinks the product – in this case wine – deserves.

I would dearly like to see an example of how a self-flagellating bit of piety can be cultivated into customers and retailers making them feel obliged to pay more than what a batch of bottle of wine is being offered at.

This would mean Systembolaget, which largely works on a tender basis, going to the South African producer who was offering the Swedes bulk Chenin Blanc at R7 a litre FOB and saying, “ag no, sorry, we are – in the spirit of generosity and the understanding of your problems back home, going to pay R8,50 instead. Have a good day, and grab a pickled herring on the way out.”

No wine-buyer, big, small, local, international is going to do this because it goes against the grain of Economics 101: willing buyer, willing seller.

Now for the real zinger. Do those who say so really, truly believe that greater incoming revenue is going to create substantial changes on those wine farms that have been outed in the controversial Danish television documentary? Sorry, I don’t. The imaginary largesse will be spread about at a higher level before any drops – if any – reach Viceroy in the vineyard and Saartjie on the bottling line.

There is only one thing that determines the price of wine, and that is what the buyer is willing to pay for it. You don’t ask for the high price first, and then go about improving your image. An overall committed and inclusive action to create a better image for Brand SA Wine is the only way to convince a fairer return.

Charity begins at home, but so does profit.

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