Fairtrade wines are wines that work within the ethics of the Fairtrade organisation, and have been certified as such by the Fairtrade foundation. The Fairtrade Foundation’s mission is to work with businesses, community groups and individuals to improve the trading position of producer organisations in impoverished countries and to deliver sustainable livelihoods for farmers, workers and their communities.
About Fairtrade Wines
Fairtrade products are now part of our daily lives, with tea and coffee being the most obvious ones. In these instances, the UK now largely understands the need for Fairtrade, and how support for this initiative will help the poor and underprivileged obtain the right pay for their produce, and ensure a sustainability.
In wine, it is maybe less obvious, however the principles remain the same. The main wine producing Fairtrade countries, are South Africa, Argentina and Chile. In all 3 countries there is widescale poverty, poor working conditions, and minimum payment rates for produce.
Fairtrade wines are made by wine producers, who will pay at least the minimum wage price to their workers, often more; who look after their workers, and frequently provide ongoing support with homes, and schooling – and whose wines are accredited by the Fairtrade foundation. These are just the topline principles.
The UK is the largest market for Fairtrade wines, which now account for almost 1% of total wine volume, with over 7million litres sold. Fairtrade wine sales have grown at over 10% volume in the last year, well ahead of a static market.
The Background To Fairtrade Wines
Whilst the notion of Fairtrade wines is now well established, with the familiar logo seen on millions of bottles in the UK, it was only just over 10 years ago, that the initiative to develop Fairtrade wines was born, since at the time, it was only tea, coffee and cotton, which were actively supported and understood.
The Co-operative are due great honours and accolades, for championing the rights of the very poor farm and winery workers, in all 3 key Fairtrade, third country parties, and it is almost as a direct result of their actions that the Fairtrade movement for wines began.
Back in 2001, in the absence of any formal Fairtrade mark for wine, they began working with Traidcraft, the UK’s leading supporter of the Fairtrade organisation. Several years later the Fairtrade mark for wine was created, and the Cooperative were again instrumental, in helping to drive this initiative and new ‘category’ forward, until it became more widely understood by consumers.
The Cooperative now accounts for over 60% of all Fairtrade wine sales in the UK, and have specific projects in all 3 countries, as well as supporting other Fairtrade wine brands. Since 2001, they have reinvested over £2million from sales of Fairtrade wines in the UK.
In simple terms, the Fairtrade wine process works by ensuring that not only are workers paid a wage, on which they and their families can live, but that the organisation helps support projects to improve the quality of their lives and those of their families. Across all 3 countries, there are major sponsored projects –to get clean water in some villages in Argentina; to provide crèche facilities for babies in South Africa, as well as improved education. And to help provide housing, and community centres. This only touches on the wide variety of projects funded by the sales of Fairtrade wines, but provides a sense of what the organisation is doing.
There has been some criticism about the Fairtrade accreditation – licence fees, accreditation, legalities, and paperwork, all come at a cost, and some producers feel that they do not want to invest this money – however, as any wine buyer who has travelled to these regions has witnessed, there are numerous other humanitarian projects going on, with support from the wineries to the workers, which are simply not mentioned, because they have not gone through the accreditation process.
Fairtrade wines are sold at a slight premium, and a percentage of each sale goes back to the Fairtrade organisation. The main challenge from wine critics in the past, has been whether the wines can stand up to the extra charge, in terms of quality levels; if they didn’t, that is no incentive for the consumer to purchase.
These views lit up the passions of the producers in recent years,and there is now a total focus, not only on delivering benefits to the impoverished workers, but on proving to the end consumer that the product is worth purchasing on quality alone.
Who Is Producing Fairtrade Wines
The Cooperative is the leading supporter of Fairtrade wine projects in all 3 key countries, which are South Africa, Chile and Argentina. Despite the superficial, higher level of wealth of the latter two over South Africa, some of the worst conditions are actually found in Argentina.
There are now over 250 different Fairtrade wines in the UK, from the vast undertakings of Fairhills, which support thousands of people, to far smaller, independent organisations, whose principles are similar.
The largest Fairtrade wine brand is undoubtedly FAIRHILLS, which operates wineries and projects out of its homeland in South Africa, but also in Argentina, and latterly Chile. It has 11 farms, and runs a crèche, a school, and housing and jobs for workers across its estate.
In Chile, the leading exponent of the Fairtrade movement is the huge cooperative of LOS ROBLES.
In Argentina, the main producer is LA RIOJANA.
All these companies produce a wide range of wines, and support their community, and workers with the funds raised. There are also a myriad other smaller Fairtrade accredited wineries, such as the increasingly popular THANDI in South Africa.
A considerable proportion of all Fairtrade wine sales in the UK, are supermarket own brand wines. In these instances, the supermarket buyers have gone out, usually to one of the top 3 mentioned companies and source Fairtrade wines to retail under their own label, to demonstrate their support for Fairtrade.
In summary, it is still a very small niche market, however the growth pattern in strong, the wine writers and industry leaders support the initiatives, and the wines are increasingly worth buying in their own right, as the focus on quality continues.