Duty-free certainly ain’t profit-free

Only on my all-too-infrequent visits to the internal departure lounge at Cape Town Airport am I reminded of the scandalous situation regarding wine at the duty-free shop. Of course, it might be a similar story for tanzanite ear-rings and the smelly scents, but I bet it’s not as bad. Duty-free and tax-free the wine might well be, but who cares, when it is so very much not profiteering-free?

My impression is that prices charged to airport-captive consumers are in many cases 30-50 percent more than they would be at a shop in town. Given the absurd situation that we are still not allowed to carry a few tax- and duty-paid bottles in our hand luggage in case we turn them into bombs, there is more need than before for a decent wine shop at the airport to tempt departing foreign visitors to take back a sample or two of the wine they have, we hope, enjoyed here. Or for departing locals to pick up a bottle or two to take overseas with them. But a departing local like me who knows what an outrageous mark-up is being applied is going to do so, if it’s unavoidable, with the greatest reluctance, and with hatred in his heart. And I have no doubt the same applies to any foreign visitor who realises what is going on

Do any of the official parts of our wine industry – such as they rather pathetically are (I don’t even know if things like the Wine Council even exist any more) – do any of them ever make any complaint that either the airport or the franchisee (and it’s probably both) are doing some real damage to the cause of Cape wine? Do any of the producers or the agents ever complain? – I suppose the ones that are stocked there are simply grateful to be represented, even if their wines are being sold at such excessive profit margins.

There were some  of those producers on the plane with me – I noticed representatives of Tokara, Cloof and Cederberg. I was on my way to brush up on some international tasting at the London International Wine Fair, and they were going to show their stuff, and to appear at the Decanter New World Fine Wine Encounter beforehand. Also on the plane was Su Birch from Wosa. She no doubt gets many chances to notice the price of the wines at the airport, and I hope that she regularly complains.

Incidentally, I did notice without surprise that Su, unlike the rest of the local wine people, turned left after entering the plane, purposefully moving towards the comfort of the Business (or First?) Class seats. Well, after all the nonsense she’s had to cope with this last week, I suppose she needed a good night’s rest. No doubt the wine she was offered at the pointy end of the plane was rather more exciting than I had with my rather dull non-meat dinner. When I asked what was available I was firmly told there was  – guess what? – “red or white”, and the steward seemed quite uncomprehending when I pressed him a little harder for some detail. I eventually found out that one of the whites was a sauvignon, so I had the Boland Kelder Chardonnay, which was vaguely Ok, but not likely to have the punters wishing they’d gone into debt by stocking up on it at the duty-free. A Swartland Malbec-Shiraz was rather juicier and tastier. Let’s see what London has for me.

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