South African Wine by Law

Responsible Vino Practices

©Marinda Louw

Wine is one of South Africa’s favourite beverages - liquid from the gods, if you will. Although it is meant to be celebrated and enjoyed, it also needs to be regulated due to its alcohol content. Persons under 18 years of age cannot partake in the fun, and with good reason - vino is best when consumed legally and responsibly. 

There are numerous laws and regulations put in place by the South African government to ensure that the wine industry is held to a high (and legal) standard. Emphasis is placed on rules regarding local production, the export market, health warnings and distribution, which is implemented to protect both the producer and consumer. Furthermore, organisations such as Wine and Spirit Board (WSB) and SA Wine Industry Information and Systems (SAWIS) support local laws and provide information on responsible vino practices. 

History of Regulation

During the early 20th century, the South African wine industry was managed by KWV (Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Bpkt), a highly influential organisation that dictated policies and prices for the whole wine industry. Supported by the government, they were able to restrict yields of grapes and set minimum prices to serve their own agenda, which was the increased production of brandy and fortified wines. With the establishment of apartheid government, South Africa received little attention from the global wine market. Thus, exports to other countries were not a thing. Boycotts on SA products during the height of the regime further encouraged the industry’s isolation. 

It was only in the 1990s that export markets opened up and wanted to discover what wines the country had to offer. One of the first revised wine laws were implemented in 1989 when it was decided that production, labeling, and the import and export of liquor products had to be regulated. The reviewed law also brought about the Wine of Origin Scheme and the door was opened to the production of environmentally-friendly wines.

21st Century Rules

In the 21st century, the local industry grew exponentially, which came with its own batch of concerns. In 2008, the Department of Health introduced health warning regulations for alcoholic beverages, which meant that wine labels had to contain at least one of the health messages set out by the regulation.

It is meant to inform the consumer about what they are putting into their bodies - even though wine is a tasty and fun drink, it also comes with health risks.

The Liquor Act 59 of 2003 was a national law put in place for the distribution of alcoholic beverages on wholesale level by means of registering/licensing manufacturers and distributors. This meant that wine estates, wineries and wine cellars had to register themselves so that they could produce and sell wine. 

The Western Cape Liquor Amendment Act, 10 of 2010 focused on the province of the Cape Winelands, and offered regulations for the licensing of the retail sale and the micro-manufacture of liquor in the Western Cape Province. It also contained conditions for licenses and implications for not complying to the law. Thus, the wine industry’s boom was regulated with air-tight laws and guidelines of steel. 

The Wine and Spirit Board (WSB) implements some of the legislation that governs the wine industry, and provides certification for producers and their wine based on origin, variety, vintage year and environment-friendly production. The SA Wine Industry Information and Systems is a good website to visit if you are looking for information on the local wine industry, its laws, certifications, as well as the Wine of Origin system and market statistics.

By Carla Lottering