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  • Writer's pictureClaire @ fromthegrapevine

Fairtrade wine and cheese night

Row of Fairtrade bottles

Fairtrade Fortnight runs from the end of February to mid March each year to increase awareness of Fairtrade products. This year, From the Grapevine teamed up with the Eastcott Community Organisation to hold our Fairtrade wine tasting. The organisation put a successful bid into the Co-op's Community Fund to secure funding for the wine and cheese, meaning that all income from ticket sales could be used for upcoming community events.

On March 9th, twenty four supporters gathered in the Savernake Street Social Hall and sampled seven great Fairtrade wines to see which got the thumbs up, and learn more about what Fairtrade actually means and where the money goes.

In a nutshell, Fairtrade gives farmers in developing countries a better deal, allowing them to control their future and lead dignified lives. It achieves this by

  • Giving better prices for the traded goods

  • Ensuring decent working conditions

  • Building local sustainability

Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade where prices never fall lower than the market price. This in turn reduces discrimination against the poorest people.

Fairtrade works by setting a minimum price for the traded goods, then adding a Fairtrade premium, which is used to invest in social environmental and economic development projects. These schemes are democratically decided by committees made up of community members. In terms of wines, the premium doesn't sound much; it equates to around 50p on a case of 12 wines, but when that is scaled up, the impact can be phenomenal.

Wine One - Co-op Irresistable Fairtrade Sauvignon Blanc

Available from the co-op £4.99

We started off with a sauvignon blanc from South Africa. South Africa is the largest producer of Fairtrade wines, accounting for two thirds of Fairtrade wine sales, with 42 Fairtrade wine producers across the country. Apartheid had left a legacy of poverty, poor employment prospects, low wages, substandard housing and labour practices that discriminated against women across South Africa.

The premium on the wine has helped to fund after school clubs including a karate club which is helping to take children away from issues of drug abuse.

As for the wine, Sauvignon Blanc is not commonly associated with South Africa, where Chenin Blanc is more widely planted. Many of the tasters were familiar with New Zealand sauvignon blanc, which is grown in a cooler climate making the wines taste grassier and herbaceous. The warmer South African climate can make the wine taste fruitier.

For many, this turned out to be the favourite wine of the night.


Bottle of muscat - Days of summer

Wine Two - "Days of summer" - Muscat, Chile

Available from the Majestic wine and the co-op £7.99

This wine does not carry the recognisable "Fairtrade' label, but is part of the "Fair for Life" certification programme. The orange sticker appears on the label, but sometimes the logo appears on the neck of the bottle. M&S carry a few "Fair for Life" wines.

The vision of the Fair for life programme has a slightly different emphasis, and looks more at the whole supply chain and wider sustainability and ethics. It's vision is "A world where trade, through ethical, fair and respectful partnerships, is a driving force for positive and sustainable change benefiting people and their environment." You can read the full visionand mission on their website.

This wine is made from the muscat grape, which surprised the tasters, who thought muscat was all sweet. It is a grape used a lot in dessert wines, and also made into raisins as well as being a table grape and wine grape. The producer Miguel Torres is a big player in Spain, but has recently been pioneering good wines in Chile. It's obviously working, as this wine won the gold award for "Best dry aromatic" in the 2016 Decanter awards and a double gold medal in the Australian 6-nation wine challenge.

Our tasters thought the wine was aptly named, as it was very summery, although not many they preferred it to the previous sauvignon blanc wine. They agreed there were gentle tropical aromas, and a juicy finish.

Wine Three - "Co-op Fairtrade torrontés chardonnay" - Argentina

Available from the co-op £4.99

Bottle of torrents chardonnay

The Co-op is unique in the supermarket sector in its structure that supports a cooperative approach and its customers are part of the operation. It was founded 170 years ago on the need to eliminate exploitation of workers and customers. From these beginnings the worldwide co-operative movement was born. The co-op introduced Fairtrade bananas to the UK, and are the only supermarket with its own range of Fairtrade products. They provide co-op to co-op support, as we see with this wine.

Produced in Argentina by the La Riojana cooperative, in an area called La Rioja. Despite the area being founded and named by Spanish settlers, there has been a 12 year legal dispute with the Spanish Government over the use the name, due to the potential of muddling it up with Spanish "Rioja". Thankfully in 2011, the dispute was resolved and La Rioja are allowed to continue using the name on their wines.

The region has become Argentina's largest producer of the torrontés wine. The co-op supermarket also offer a torrontés without blending with chardonnay. La Rioja provides the perfect climate, nestled in the foothills of the Andes in NorthWest Argentina. Further north you can find Torrontés being made in Salta (the highest vineyards in the world) where the conditions produce a very dry and zesty wine. Further south in Mendoza, the torrontés can be peachy and sweeter, whilst this offering falls in between the two. The use of the chardonnay in the blend gives it a richer colour and softens some of the harshness of the torrontés grape.

Our tasters felt this was a zesty wine that smells like a tropical fruit salad. It works well with spicy aromatic food. Sales of this wine have helped build a school for Tilimuqui community where previously there were no educational opportunities beyond the age of 15. The premiums on the wine have also funded a minibus to transport children to the school from outlying villages, and contributed to a water plant to help the 70% of households with no access to drinking water in their homes.

You can follow La Riojana Cooperative on Twitter, and also read more about the co-op wineshere.

Bottle of malbec rosé

Wine Four - Malbec rosé

Available from the coop, £5.99

Another wine from Argentina, with a rosé made from Malbec; the signature grape of Argentina. The grape originates from France, and is still used in the Cahors region. However, the Argentines have taken it under their wing and made it their most widely planted grape variety.

We discussed how rosé is made - by letting the base juice have contact time with the skins, where the colour resides. How "pink" the wine gets will depend on the grape variety (malbec grapes produce very inky colours from its skin), and the length of time the contact lasts. This rosé was neither pale nor deep but an average level of pink.

"If I close my eyes it tastes like a white wine" observed one taster, whilst another summed up the general feeling as "I don't really know what to say about this - it doesn't stand out at all."


Bottle of Fair-trade carmenere

Wine Five - Co-op Chilean Carmenere

Available from co-op, £5.99

We went to Chile for our next tasting. Just as malbec is Argentina's adopted grape, Chile have taken carmenère as their signature wine. Like malbec, it is a French grape originally, which has become virtually abandoned everywhere but Chile. In fact, it nearly became extinct, as it was mistaken for merlot and taken to Chile. Only as recently as 1994, following DNA testing, the grape was discovered to be carmenère after all.

It's a tricky grape to grow, being fickle in its needs. It doesn't like rain during the growing season (that can make it taste like green pepper) but too much heat sends the alcohol levels out, as well as making the wine quite "Jammy".

Unusually for Chile's Central Valley, many of the small vineyards that grow the fruit for this wine are owned by women. The money from Fairtrade sales has helped pay tuition fees and bursaries so that the children of the vineyard workers can go to University or college. For many, they are the first generation of their family to do so. The wine is suitable for vegans ( we discuss this in more detail at the end of the blog post).


Wine Six- Leopards Leap Cabernet Sauvignon

Bottle of leopards leap fair-trade red wine

Available from Sainsbury's £6.75, Morrisons £6.50, or co-op £6.50

To South Africa, and an emerging brand, Leopard's Leap, whose wines can be found in mainstream supermarkets, as well as the co-op. For decades, the Rupert family has displayed a sincere commitment to conservation and environmental care. Leopard’s Leap is a major sponsor of the Cape Leopard Trust, an NGO that aims at optimally facilitating the conservation of the Cape region’s predators, in particular the endangered Cape Mountain Leopard. Additionally, Leopard’s Leap “adopted” three leopards roaming the Cederberg mountains. During 2011 a further three leopards, with the Franschhoek/Wemmershoek mountain ranges as their habitat, were adopted under the same conservation initiative. They have been named Nala, Enzo and Sheeva.

The company are also supportive of literature and local authors; they sponsor the Open Book Literature Festival in Cape Town.

This wine is packed with black fruit flavours and commonly used in Bordeaux blends to add complexity and subtle flavours.

For Cabernet Sauvignon fans, it may be worth noting that International Cabernet Day is the Thursday before labour day (which is the first Monday in September. This means it falls on Thursday 30th August 2018.


Wine Seven - Co-op Bonarda Shiraz, Argentina

Bottle of bonarda shiraz fair-trade wine

Available from the Co-op, £8.99

Despite not many people knowing the Bonarda grape, it is Argentina's second most planted grape variety after malbec.

Bonarda wine is soft cherry-scented, and here it has been blended with shiraz to give it a little extra kick. The result is a dense, dark and fruity wine, which was enjoyed by most of the tasters. It is suitable for vegetarians, and comes with a "commended" at the International wine awards.

The money from Fairtrade sales has supported campaigns to teach local communities to care for their environment, including a reforestation project


Vegan vs Vegetarian

It's often presumed that wine just contains grapes, but in reality, the majority of wines are not suitable for vegetarians, and even less suitable for vegans. The Fairtrade wines are more sensitive to this and so of the wines we sampled, four were suitable for vegans and two suitable for vegetarians, with just one having no information (suggesting it's not suitable for either).

Some of the techniques in the vineyard and winery involve animal parts or their bi-products. These are some of the reasons that wines may not be suitable for vegetarians or vegans :

1) Additives Many wines have added sugar and pure white processed sugar contains bone char for its colour.

2) Filtration processes

Many animal by-products can find their way into wine during the filtration process (to thicken / combine etc) including milk, gelatine, egg white, isinglass (dried fish bladder) and catalase (bovine liver). Clay based alternatives can be used to make the wine vegan.

3) Packaging

Animal based gelatine glues can be used in packaging, along with colouring on the labels.

4) Vineyard practices

Animals can be used in the vineyard - horses to till the soil for example, and animal compost may be used in the soil. This may offend committed vegans.

A full list of vegan wines (and there are a lot worldwide!) can be found on the Barnivore website.


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