White whine of the week

David Bullard on the WCape's efforts to outlaw private wine collecting

Through no fault of my own I became a criminal on April 1st. Or I did in the Western Cape. From that date it is apparently illegal for anyone to own more than 150 litres of wine without a liquor license. That's 200 standard size bottles.

Now strictly speaking I am not yet a criminal because part of my wine stocks are still in Joburg pending a move to Stellenbosch later this year. I had intended to sell the Joburg house but it occurs to me that I may need to hang on to it just to keep my cellar tally within legal limits, even though it's going to be a rather expensive way to circumvent a very dumb law.

The whole point of moving to Stellenbosch (and on to a residential wine estate to boot) was to enjoy the magnificent scenery of the winelands in my dotage and to build up a stock of good wines which I intend to lay down for later drinking. That idea has been completely blown out of the water because if I added a modest seven full cases of wine a year (84 bottles) I would be illegal within three years. And that's ignoring existing stock. So I am moving to one of the most beautiful wine growing areas in the world but I can't buy too much of the local product.

I'm not sure where this extraordinary piece of nonsense came from and I'm hoping that the Western Cape re-think the 200 bottle rule before it has a detrimental effect on the local wine and hospitality industry. I really  don't mind politicians telling me that I can't drive faster than 120km/h (actually I do mind) and I can't object to the rule that says I shouldn't be behind the wheel of a car if I have had a skinful of booze. But I do mind very much when a bloody politician tells me how much un-drunk wine I am allowed to keep in my own home. What's next I wonder Big Brother.....a limit on how many books we are allowed to own?

I suspect this all has something to do with the prevalence of alcoholism in the Western Cape and if I'm right then I'm delighted that the DA are tackling the issue. But how does the imposition of a liquor license on a private collector help matters?

I may occasionally swap a case of wine with a friend or relative for a case of a different wine. I may even put together a syndicate of six buyers for a heavily priced special purchase and then split the case. Neither of these is designed to make a profit; merely to further the enjoyment of good wine. I certainly have no intention of selling my, by many standards, modest wine collection but if I ever did I would probably offer it to a reputable wine merchant. More importantly, I won't welcome a dishevelled drunk knocking on my door asking if I can help him out with a bottle or two. Neither do I plan to cruise the local streets handing out my prized Vilafonte or Waterford to street kids in return for Tik.

The whole point of collecting bottles of good wine is that they will probably taste a lot better in five to eight year's time. That, at any rate, is the belief we wine drinkers like to cling to. By buying an estate's latest release of quality wine we perform two essential economic functions. Firstly we put cash back into the hands of the winemaker in order that he might have another try this year. Secondly we help him make space in his cellar for this year's vintage. If a winemaker sells no wine then he eventually has to give it away or turn it into brandy when the new harvest comes along. So the role of the private wine buyer is essential and should be encouraged.

More interesting though is how the Western Cape propose to enforce this law. Will they be redeploying our police from the streets and townships and authorising them to conduct house to house searches at 4 in the morning? And if we are found to have 220 bottles will we be led away sobbing in handcuffs and kept overnight in a prison cell? Will the police have discretionary powers to let us off with a warning on condition that they remove 20 of the bottles which will bring us down to our legal limit? And are they oenologically sophisticated enough to remove the Ch Latour 1986 in preference to the Ch Libertas?

I'm assuming that there will be many offenders so I trust the courts are prepared to spend the next few years ignoring such minor infringements as rape, murder and assault in favour of prosecuting the much simpler transgression of excessive wine ownership without a liquor license.

If anything is designed to make us drink more not less it is the 200 bottle rule. Law abiding citizens will have to drink down their wine stocks to make way for new purchases. But, merriment aside, is this not just another way for the police and the bureaucrats to solicit a bribe?  How much for a quickie liquor license I wonder?

More sinister though is the idea that politicians can control what we can and can't do in the privacy of our homes. That's just a small step away from helping themselves to our bank accounts. Cyprus today is the South Africa of tomorrow. Hopefully common sense will prevail and this absurd rule will be kicked into touch. But, just in case it isn't, I give due notice that I shall treat it with the contempt it deserves.

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