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South Africa
Economy - Development | Agriculture - Nutrition

Scandals shock South Africa's wine industry

afrol News, 8 December - The news of illegal flavouring at one of South Africa's major wine producers, KWV, has shaken up the wine industry in the Province of Western Cape. Scandals of this magnitude could harm South Africa's reputation as a new and high quality wine producer, the industry and regional authorities fear. Swift action is being taken.

Two wine makers employed by KWV have already been dismissed after it was established that they were guilty of manipulating two lots of the company's 2004 Sauvignon Blanc wines. This follows a comprehensive investigation by South Africa's Wine and Spirits Board (WSB) about the use of illegal flavourants in the winemaking process.

KWV, which has been a dominant figure in South Africa's wine industry since its establishment as a cooperative in 1918, has embarked on a strong campaign to re-establish confidence after the scandal came out. Confidence is seen as key to survival in the wine industry, and KWV's historical role in regulating South Africa's wine industry has damaged confidence is the country as a wine producer at large.

- KWV co-operated fully with the WSB during the course of the investigation, the company emphasised in a statement. KWV says it had distanced itself from the very beginning, together with the industry, "from any illegal practices and acted immediately when it was informed of the finding." An urgent and in-depth investigation had thus been launched.

In addition to the tests undertaken by the WSB, KWV undertook independent analyses of all its 2004 Sauvignon blanc wines. "These tests confirmed that two of the wines showed deviations," the company admits. Illegal flavourants had been used.

- The two designated lots of wine were immediately isolated, the company said. "Both wines will be destroyed under supervision by the WSB. Neither of these lots has reached the market," KWV emphasised.

Willem Barnard, CEO of KWV, further said that the two wine makers adding illegal flavourants had acted on their own initiative, without permission, and that KWV was not aware of the manipulation. "KWV's value system and practices are aimed at the ethical and legal production of wine. It is a traumatic incident for us but we believe that it will serve as a serious warning and an example also for other wine makers," Mr Barnard said.

The incident was not only traumatic for KWV, but also for the entire wine industry in South Africa. "The illegal flavouring of wine is a practise that should never have happened and now our industry whose reputation must be guarded at all costs has been shrouded in controversy, shock and scandal," commented today Alie van Jaarsveld of the Western Cape Department of Agriculture.

- This incident is hopefully the last, as our wine industry cannot afford to be tainted internationally having only now started to grow and to make indents into the international wine market, added Ms Jaarsveld. It was now in the hands of KWV and other players in the industry to make sure that this practise was indeed an isolated incident.

Damage was however already made and believed to be of great scale. "Unfortunately, similar incidents in other so-called 'new world' wine countries have already come to the attention of top-level wine organisations like the International Wine Academy damaging also the reputation of this group of countries," warned the provincial Department of Agriculture.

- South African winemakers and organisations in the industry must therefore embrace the concept of noble wines, rejecting all ignoble additions to this wonderful product of the Western Cape, the Department added. Ms Jaarsveld urged all winemakers and organisations to "revisit their current systems to ensure that a repeat incident is avoided."

South Africa is the world's sixth largest wine producer, accounting for 2.8 percent of global production. The gross output value of wine industry related firms is rand 14.6 billion. About 746 million litres of wine are produced annually from 314 million vines. There was an explosion in the number of wineries and wines produced between 1999 and 2001, with over 100 new wineries established. Quite a few more have been established since then.

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