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'Patient Zero of the winelands': Cape estates close over coronavirus

17 March 2020 - 11:11 By wendy knowler
A Covid-19 patient who was part of a touring group of wine enthusiasts from the Netherlands has caused the precautionary closure of top wine estates in the Western Cape. Stock image.
A Covid-19 patient who was part of a touring group of wine enthusiasts from the Netherlands has caused the precautionary closure of top wine estates in the Western Cape. Stock image.

Several top wine estates in the Cape winelands have shut some or all of their operations after a member of a Dutch wine tour - which visited 30 estates and venues during a 10-day trip - tested positive for Covid-19 at the weekend.

“He’s probably the Patient Zero of the Winelands,” said Karl Lambour, general manager of Tokara Wine and Olive Estate in Stellenbosch.

The estate hosted a private dinner for the group on March 9, and Lambour sat next to the man for several hours.

“That tour covered the length and breadth of our wine-making region,” he said. “It’s devastating.”

Lambour is now isolating at home, as are two members of his marketing team and the restaurant staff members who were on duty that night.

The estate has closed its doors until March 24.

Along with all the other affected Western Cape winelands venues, Lambour received a call from the infected man on Sunday, a day after he tested positive for Covid-19 at a Cape hospital.

The other 37 members of the group, all serious wine enthusiasts, flew back to the Netherlands on Friday.

Several other top estates which hosted the group during their March 3-13 stay have temporarily closed, either completely or in part from Monday, on hearing  that a member of the group - a middle-aged man - had tested positive for the virus.

They include Delheim, Leeu Estates, Uitsig, Steenberg, Almenkerk Wine Estate, Anthonij Rupert Wines, L’Ormarins Estate, Kanonkop and Bosman Family Vineyards.

Unlike Tokara and Delheim, Bosman has not disclosed in its Facebook post the reason for its closure, saying only: “Following the decisive measures implemented by government (on Sunday night) we are unified in our response and regret to inform you that our hospitality doors at Bosman Family Vineyards in Hermanus will be closed for the following week for assessment.”

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Klein Constantia was not visited by the Dutch group, but the estate has nevertheless isolated two staff members who attended a winemakers’ lunch with colleagues from estates which were included in the group’s itinerary.

It has closed its tasting room and bistro as a precautionary measure.

Gabriëlskloof said it would temporarily close both its tasting room and restaurant, until March 24, as it had also hosted the Dutch group. "Relevant people" are being tested and isolated, it shared on social media.

Before reopening, the estate said its tasting room and restaurant will undergo a deep clean and both venues will in future offer sanitizer stations.

Simonsig and Uitsig are among the affected wine estates which remain open for business.

“All the producers in South Africa who were visited have been informed and it is up to them to take necessary precautions,” said Klazien Vermeer, speaking on behalf of the Dutch wine academy.

“Many of them have already done so.”

Following the guidelines of Dutch health authorities, she said, all the tour participants went into self-isolation on their arrival in the Netherlands at the weekend.

None of them are “seriously ill”, she said, but 12 of them, or a third of the group, have symptoms “such as a sore throat and/or a headache and/or slight increase in temperature and/or a cough”.

Maryna Calow, communications manager at the not-for-profit industry organisation Wines of South Africa, said the body was monitoring the situation “to see if other producers make similar statements on their social media platforms”.

Some responded to the news by closing immediately and asking their staff to isolate, she said, while others have only closed some areas, and for some it is business as usual.

“One told me the group only sat outside, and because they have good hygiene protocols, and no one seems ill, the staff remain at work and the estate remains open to the public,” she said.

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