SA wine industry recognised abroad for ethical practices

Thursday, 3 December, 2009
De Kock Communications
As the South African wine industry continues to grow exports despite the global recession, it is also achieving increasing international recognition for its ethical approach to winemaking, says Wines of South Africa (WOSA) CEO Su Birch.
Within the space of a few weeks the country was acknowledged by influential UK trade publication The Drinks Business, winning its Ethical Award for 2009 while also earning the lion's share of trophies and prizes in the Fairtrade Wine Committee's competition for best wines of the year, held in London.

"It is fitting that after our re-entry into world markets just over 15 years ago, we should become leaders in establishing ethical standards, as we redress the wrongs of the past and promote a better quality of life for many of the people on whom the recent success of our industry has been built," Birch said.

She added that the awards had come at a particularly important time. "Worldwide, as businesses face increasing economic pressure, workers become more vulnerable. We are able to show that tougher trading conditions do not necessarily have to impact on ethical labour standards.

"We are very proud of the enormous advances made in the quality of South African wines and the fact that they are increasingly acknowledged on international competitions and by prominent critics. We are also very proud of the reputation we have developed for sustainable wine production and the fact that other countries are now looking to us for best practice solutions in reducing their impact on the environment. However, it is not only the quality of our wines and the physical environment that need to be protected, it is also the people involved in our industry."

The Ethical Award was presented to Project Laduma, WOSA's programme established to train 2,010 wine stewards ahead of the 2010 World Cup, funded mainly through the sale of Fundi Wines, created for the purpose. These wines are selling in a range of markets abroad, including the UK, North America and Japan. Candidates for training are drawn from both the hospitality industry and the ranks of the unemployed.

Charlotte Hey, director of The Drinks Business said: "The Fundi project both excited and impressed the judges not only because it was innovative but they felt it was an initiative that would have real value and benefit on an ethical level. The idea of combining an international event with education and training in wine for people who would not necessarily get a chance to learn about the product shone above the other entries in the category. The essence of the Wine Innovation Awards is both to innovate and inspire and the Fundi project is the embodiment of what these awards stand for."

Others short-listed for the Ethical Award were the UK retailer The Co-operative Group; Cullen Wines in Australia and South Africa's Women in Wine, one of the country's few all-women owned and managed companies operating in the wine industry.

Birch said that Fairtrade, initiated to protect workers across a range of industries, had helped to focus international attention on the importance of fair labour practices in promoting socio-economic sustainability. Research conducted by Globescan earlier this year had found that 87% of UK consumers believed the issue of payment to farmers or their workers in developing countries was important.

The first Fairtrade certified wine to be launched in the UK was a South African product, Thandi Pinot Noir. "There are now more than 250 Fairtrade-certified wines available in the UK, sourced from South Africa, Chile and Argentina," she said.

According to Kate Lewis, Fairtrade's business development manager, close on 4,5 million litres of Fairtrade-certified wines were sold in the UK last year. In 2008, Britons spent over £700m on all Fairtrade goods, including wine, an increase of 43% on 2007.

"Many South African wine producers have embraced the Fairtrade principles while building their quality credentials. The Fairtrade Wine Committee awards, now in their fourth year, show just how well they are doing."

South African producers won the 2009 trophies for Best Overall Fairtrade Wine, Best Fairtrade Red Wine and Best Fairtrade White Wine. The top prize and also the prize for best red went to Isabelo Pinotage 2008, while the prize for the best white went to Six Hats Sauvignon Blanc 2009. The title of Best Fairtrade Sparkling Wine was won by the Co-operative Fairtrade Cape Sparkling Rosé NV, produced by Du Toitskloof Cellars.

, a prominent British consumer magazine with an international readership, chose six South African wines for its top ten list of Fairtrade wines. These included wines from Isabelo, Hope's Garden, Thandi, Fairhills and two produced for the Co-operative Group.

Birch said that WIETA, the Agricultural Ethical Trading Initiative SA, founded in 2002, had also helped local producers to raise working conditions on wine farms. The organisation had established a code of good practice governing labour standards to encourage reform. It was also collaborating with major retailers abroad to build support for its objectives.

Earlier this year, WOSA was chosen for The Drinks Business Green List for its role in building public awareness of the environment. WOSA was listed in fifth position, just behind US President Barack Obama (in fourth), but ahead of any other national wine marketing body.

South Africa boasts the fastest growth rate of wine sales amongst its competitors in the UK with a volume share of the market at just over 10%.
Su Birch - WOSA CEO
Su Birch - WOSA CEO

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