Wine of the Month - Fairtrade Fortnight

Posted on: 02 March 2012 by Alexander Hay

Pieter Rosenthal asks why so few of us buy fair trade wines

And why not?

Perhaps you are a bit like me when it comes to Fairtrade. I regularly buy the coffee, and I don't really use a lot of sugar anyway, but I would be happy to say I will buy Fairtrade sugar from now on if I can help in a very small way getting to the target of 50% of all sugar sold in the UK being Fairtrade.

Bananas? Yes, I buy Fairtrade a lot of the time. Wine? Well, that depends. It will come as no surprise that I love my wine and choosing Fairtrade every time would limit my options to about three countries; South Africa, Argentina and Chile. And even when it comes to those countries I don't deliberately choose Fairtrade as there are many great producers up and down who don't necessarily label their wines as such.

The issue I have with Fairtrade is not the principle of paying a fair amount for the product and giving back to the community which I think is a fantastic initiative, but that it can't act as a brand in terms of the ultimate quality of the wines. That is entirely down to the individual producers. This can make purchasing a bottle of Fairtrade wine a bit hit and miss - but let's face it, not much more so than buying a bottle of wine full stop.

It is easy to be a bit cynical about Fairtrade and simply put it down to a marketing gimmick, but increasingly producers in the aforementioned countries are going much further. Not only do they believe Fairtrade is good for business, they run their estates on much more ecologically sound principles as well. Running a winery which pays a decent living wage in itself is not going to give you a good wine.

Looking after the land, your vines and ensuring your people are well-trained and put their hearts into all that they do, both in the vineyards and the winery, will however make a massive difference. That shows in the quality of the wines. And clearly the wines are getting a fantastic reception as the figures show a pretty staggering 55% increase in wine sales during the past year. Enough to encourage any winemaker to take Fairtrade seriously.

This month it’s not one wine I recommend, but instead I'd like to issue a call to have a go and try a few of the wines for yourself.

At we’re reviewing plenty of them during Fairtrade Fortnight so you can use our reviews as a guide. I can't claim to have tasted all the Fairtrade wines on UK shelves, seemingly in excess of 250 now. But I have made a point of buying and tasting plenty over the past few weeks to try and get an idea of what they are about. There were some disappointments but in the main these wines are well-made and should have a broad appeal.

Two UK supermarkets stand out when it comes to offering an extensive range of wines under the Fairtrade label. The Co-op has been a long-standing supporter of the principle and so has one of the widest ranges available. Meanwhile, Sainsbury's has also added many wines to the range, including some pretty impressive wines in the 'Taste the Difference' selection. Of these, I'd happily buy the Morador Malbec from Argentina and South African offerings Rambling River Sauvignon Blanc and Wild Valley Chenin Blanc. They are not only keenly priced right now at £5.99 but also give a lot of drinking pleasure. So, take a step (and a sip)... For Fairtrade.

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Alexander Hay

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