If you want to see what all the hype around Fairtrade wine tastes like, a bottle of Place in the Sun Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 for R45 makes it crystal clear why Fairtrade wine sales in SA trebled from R18.4m in 2010 to R73.2m in 2011, or 255,600 bottles. Far from being the pits, PITS Cabernet 2010 is an understated masterpiece and a solar credit to cellar master Deon Boshoff (below) and his team at Zonnebloem, the dark horse in Distell’s stable. As an aside, to be a successful Fairtrade winemaker, is the surname Boshoff a requirement? A question best asked of Tertius Boshoff, winemaker at Stellenrust, whose Olympic Fairtrade wines monopolize foreign and local media coverage.
Last year, the Fairtrade category grew 12% in the UK while in Fairtrade’s first and oldest market, the Netherlands, Fairtrade sales in stores and restaurants rose 24%. Around the globe, retail sales of Fairtrade certified products increased 12%. SA producers cannot ignore this fact, especially with total wine sales to the UK down to 86 million litres in the year to June 2012 from 90 million previously, no matter how WOSA may try to spin it and confuse “ignorant” producers with bulk and bottled messages telling conflicting stories, depending on whether you read them in English or Afrikaans.
The Fairtrade brand is already recognized by over 36% of Europeans, which makes the establishment of a competing WIETA brand, criminally insane. Rather than try to establish a parallel activity, SA wine owes it to the hundreds of thousands of hard-pressed SA wine farm workers to put workers’ interests to the fore, rather than the political ambitions and self-enrichment of a few fat cats. Does WIETA really think it can compete against a $6.6 billion Fairtrade success story that has been running for 25 years? SA wine needs to take a good, hard look at WIETA tout suite to avoid the Fundi fiasco which spent millions training an invisible generation of sommeliers.
SA is already the leading market for Fairtrade in the developing world and the first developing country to make Fairtrade products available to local consumers on a large scale, with PITS a shining example. Boudewijn Goossens, executive director of Fairtrade Label SA, comments “SA consumers are in a great position: we have the ability to buy Fairtrade products in support of small-scale farmers and farm workers on the continent and directly contribute to a more equal and sustainable Africa. The success of Fairtrade in South Africa has encouraged organisations in other emerging markets such as Kenya, Argentina and Brazil to follow the example”.
An expensive WIETA side-show with its own accreditation seal (above) and duplicated bureaucracy, risks confusing consumers and wasting resources desperately needed to market SA ethically traded wine around the world.
Having worked with ethical code implementation in the wine industry and understanding the requirements to comply for market sake there is a grave concern that the seal may become ‘flavour of the month’ kind of initiative. There are many real intentions and commitments to improve workers lives, but there is also those that will use it.
In terms of rolling out the seal: Terming it ‘fast tracking’ was not ideal. Firstly any system that’s rushed is not sustainable. Secondly, it brings a focus to a documentation tick list driven process instead of bringing real change to workers because it will be managed like a sausage machine.
Lastly. Fairtrade is an ISO 65 accredited system, i.e. the methodologies, processes and operations have been vetted by the International Standards Organisation making it easy to market and recognize. Wieta, although our own valuable, home grown initiative is still subjective and being tied to Wosa leaves itself open to be bias in terms of only reporting good news and not balance that with advocacy for workers in need and decisions and methodologies and processes decided by a select few with vested interest.
Both systems have their place. Fairtrade is a valuable, structured way to bring about economic development. Even if people don’t do accreditation the model is genius to use for this purpose. It is expensive though – and you have sell enough wine to get return on investment. For a struggling wine company Wieta is the answer to comply to an ethical standard. There are many positives about Wieta, being South African specific is for one a key feature, multi-stakeholder the next. But it needs to be kept accountable. The organization responsible for farmworker welfare can not be biased or be an obstacle to real transformation. Maybe ISO 65 accreditation must be considered to give producers value for their money.
Definitely think any winemakers ignoring the growing importance of the fairtrade brand are making a big mistake.
As an aside, you’re 100% right – the PITS Cab 2010 is really excellent!
Hang on. Fairtrade has its place and ultimately, I hope, it will make a meaningful contribution back to the community which was involved in producing it.
But, Fairtrade does not seem to add true value to the product in the sense that the producer can charge meaningfully higher prices. It is also not specifically a qualitative denomination related to the consumer experience and may run out of steam eventually. Biodiversity has similar attributes ….
Fairtrade has its place, but the generic South African brand image should be based on quality and prestige, because this is what ultimately develops a market and makes it sustainable.
Fairtrade wine has mostly been associated with higher volume and lower priced wine thus far. Currently, the benefits of Fairtrade are geared for volume as Fairtrade allocations for social investment are raised through the amount of litres sold and not on the value of the product. The impact Fairtade has in the farms where it is implimented is actually a driver for quality in a wine production enviroment.
However, in any business or production environment (such as high quality wine) where products are produced by hand and not by machine, experience has been that if you care for the people that do the work the people care for the work they do and the result is an improvement of product quality.
This has been the product curve for Fairtrade coffee, which started long before wine and was one of the first Fairtrade products introduced to the world. Initially, Fairtrade coffee was not the best tasting coffee in the world. Today some of the best coffee in the world is Fairtrade. The one I had this morning was Puro Fairtrade Coffee and it is unbelievable complex, rich and you feel good starting your day with a Fairtrade product! It will be interesting to see what the level of quality of Fairtrade wines from Fairtrade vineyards will be like in 25 years time.
Since we have implemented Fairtrade standards, our farm’s staff turnover is down, our absenteeism is down and service years are up.
Most high volume brands are made from machine harvested grapes. Most high quality wines are meticulously made from grapes that are hand harvested and hand sorted, which is a labour intensive process. If labour is one of the driving factors of premium quality, surely Fairtrade as a system should better suite the premium wine segment than the high production enviroment.
To me Wieta has its place in the South African industry to safe guard the perception of South African Wine Industry on the ethical front. It can however not be compared to Fairtrade which have 100% traceability and an intensive progressive investment in social, enviroment and trade standards.