Wine in South Africa
I enjoy drinking alcohol, and do so regularly. But there was a time when I couldn’t take it for granted.
We lived in Qatar from late 2011 through the end of 2013. Qatar’s mostly Sunni Muslim citizens aren’t allowed to drink alcohol, but there are different rules for its many expats. We could buy booze, but the country’s only liquor store—the Qatar Distribution Company (QDC)—was located on the outskirts of Doha, and shut down for the whole month of Ramadan. (Expats and tourists can drink in hotel bars, but the QDC is the only place to buy alcohol for home consumption.) Also, residents could not bring in alcohol of any kind. On our overseas trips, we got used to never buying booze to take home.
We felt this restriction most deeply when we visited South Africa.
In the spring of 2012, we went to a wedding in Franschhoek and, naturally, extended our visit so we could stop at some wineries in the Western Cape. With plenty to sample, we worked our way through the vineyards. There were stunning Sauvignons, superb Shirazes, and even better bubbles. And, after swirling the precious liquid and sipping glass after delicious glass, we would admit to our hosts that we couldn’t bring any bottles home with us.
This fact would spark a conversation, and eventually my husband would pull out a special card: the credit-card-sized liquor permit administered by the QDC that allowed us to buy alcohol in Qatar. It bore his name, picture, and an expiration date, in distinctive blue and gold coloring.
We explained that to get one of these licenses, you had to give the QDC a letter from your employer stating your monthly salary; based on this, the store would calculate the amount of money you could spend on alcohol each month. The limit was generous (and increased threefold just before the Ramadan closure.) Because of its inconvenient location—and Doha’s horrible traffic—a QDC run was typically a two-hour round trip to pick up obscene quantities of alcohol, to put off the next trip for as long as possible.
Still, there was a silver lining to our situation. Knowing we couldn’t bring anything back with us from South Africa, we enjoyed the wine all the more, confined to a particular place and time. And so, we would buy one bottle of what we liked best at each vineyard, drink it for lunch or back in our hotel room, and vow to return—after we left Doha.