Considering Fairtrade Wine, South Africa

Fairtrade Wine

In South Africa a number of wineries have been formed with interest to fulfill the standards of Fairtrade International. The organization strives to ensure workers’ rights, and create environmental protections in regions where exploitation would otherwise be easily achieved. By setting standards for economic, social, and environmental health, Fairtrade International helps to create a recognizable more-ethical alternative for buying products from other countries. The group certifies products, and ingredients after reviewing company practices. Fairtrade is a symbol commonly associated today with good like chocolate, coffee, cotton and various other foods.

As South Africa has worked to transform from its history of apartheid, Fairtrade has become a means for determining reasonable standards around which to build companies to create more equitable practices. While the South African wine industry has included predominantly white ownership, more recently several wineries have begun integrating farmworker ownership, also making further training and education available to farmworkers, and thus making their leadership in the business more possible.

During our visit two weeks ago, we were able to taste with several partially farmworker-owned wineries, each of which also hold Fairtrade certifications for their wines. While a number of wineries pride themselves in their Fairtrade practices, and utilize the symbol on their wines in sales throughout South Africa and elsewhere, they actually found that the United States market does not think of wine in terms of Fairtrade standards (even though the US American community does rely on it for other food products). Generally, then, even though these wines fulfill Fairtrade standards and are certified, they are no longer labeled with the symbol for export here to the United States.

Many of us in the wine industry have the privilege of thinking mostly in terms of premium wines. Even so, affordable everyday options still worth drinking are important to keep in mind either for ourselves or to recommend for others. An everyday wine needs to be relatively affordable, refreshing, and worth drinking on its own or with food, pleasing for a mixed group of people. Each of the following three wineries produces reliable commercial wines at incredible value that fulfill these needs. I was impressed with their ability to deliver plenty of flavor and still mouthwatering freshness. Many commercial wines in the United States fall into ponderance and weight on the palate. These brands all avoid that problem, remaining instead refreshing.

Fairvalley

At only $10 to $12 a bottle all of the Fairvalley wines are incredible value. The stand out for me was the Chardonnay. The variety is one I follow all over the world and it is close to impossible to find an example at this price that is mouthwatering, fresh, and flavorful as well. It’s a commercial wine that avoids the heaviness more common to the variety at this price point instead delivering notes of honeydew and citrus with just enough texture, a nice mineral drive and a long mouthwatering finish. Perfect as an everyday or picnic wine.

Highberry

Again, finding a Cabernet Sauvignon worth drinking at less than $25 is almost impossible. The Highberry delivers mouthwatering freshness with varietal expression at very good value. It offers mouth filling flavor, herbal accents with just enough earthiness, and a firm frame through a persistent finish. It’s a little harder to eat steak at a picnic but it’s clearly worth the trouble. If you’re willing to go that route, this too is a perfect wine for a picnic atop a hill with a hell of a view and a slight breeze to keep you cool.

Bosman

South Africa does very well with white blends bringing together a melange of varieties to produce textural, flavorful wines with plenty of freshness. The Adama white blend from Bosman offers a mix of savory notes with sweet fruits (not sugar) and just a bit of mineral waxiness though the finish. The blend rests primarily in Grenache Blanc and Chardonnay with Pinot Gris, Roussanne, Semillon, and Viognier serving light supporting roles.

Fairtrade Wine Abroad

To learn about other brands certified by Fairtrade, check out the page from Fairtrade out of the UK that shares resources for global brands recognized to fulfill these standards. Here’s the link: http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/Buying-Fairtrade/Wine . You can also check out the site for other Fairtrade recognized products from cotton to coffee, and other goods here: http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/Buying-Fairtrade .

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