Wine: It's hip to be Fair

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Do you wake up and smell the Café Direct coffee? Or find it hard to resist the blandishments of Green & Black's Maya Gold chocolate? If so, you know that buying Fairtrade doesn't have to be a patronising gesture in favour of the poor and disadvantaged. Yet not everyone is convinced. According to Roger Higgs of Western Wines, who works in partnership with Origin Wines to bring in Fairtrade products from the Cape, "one of the problems is still a perception that Fairtrade products are not good quality". As with labels such as organic or biodynamic, the challenge for producers is to convince us that their product stands on its own two feet of quality and value.

The Fairtrade mark guarantees a number of things: a fair price, a stronger position in world markets and a chance to improve the lives of growers and their families. FLO certification (Fairtrade Labelling Organization) also demands respect for the environment and a closer link between shoppers and producers. A levy on each case of wine sold in the UK with the Fairtrade mark is spent on local projects to help disadvantaged communities. Globally, Fairtrade benefits more than a million producers and their workers and families in 50 countries. Traidcraft, in contrast, is a brand that distributes Fairtrade products, including wines sourced from Los Robles in Chile, Argentina's La Riojana and Citrusdal in South Africa (www.traidcraftshop.co.uk). A pity, I think, that it promotes its wines with the slogan "wines you can drink with a clear conscience".

Wine is one of the most recent but fastest-growing products sold under the FLO mark, so Fairtrade Fortnight, which starts on Monday, offers plenty of sustainable food - and drink - for thought. The Co-op, the first to bring Fairtrade bananas to the UK, is extending its own-label Fairtrade wine range with five new wines produced from grapes grown by the 22 farms belonging to du Toitskloof, comprising 786 employees and their families. The partnership is expected to produce £50,000 this year, which will go towards day care and crèche facilities, adult literacy, transport, HIV and Aids awareness and recreational activities.

It's a personal and direct way of contributing to the welfare of people who need and deserve our support. Whites include a refreshingly peardroppy 2005 Co-op Fairtrade Cape Chenin Colombard (£3.99, or £3.19 from Monday), an aromatic, zesty 2005 Co-op Fairtrade Cape Sauvignon Blanc (£3.99 from Monday). The 2005 Co-op Fairtrade Cape Cinsault Shiraz (£3.99, £3.19 from Monday), is a Rhône-like red and its counterpart, the 2005 Co-op Fairtrade Cape Cabernet Sauvignon (£4.99, £3.99 from Monday), suitably blackcurranty in a claret-like mould.

Compared to South Africa's 22 producers with FLO certification, Chile has just two. One is the Los Robles Co-op set up by farmers and workers in the Curicò Valley to help rebuild the community after the devastating earthquake that killed more than 10,000. By processing the grapes it buys from its members, Vinos Los Robles secures a guaranteed price and a premium for investment. The money has primarily been used to improve housing, to build a staff canteen, for educational facilities for six schools in poor areas, and health insurance. Its 2005 Merlot Rosé (£4.99) is light and berry-fruity, the 2003 and 2004 Fairtrade Chilean Carmenère (£4.99, Sainsbury's Waitrose, Somerfield and Co-op), aromatic with capsicum undertones. The project should receive just under £35,000 from the sales of Co-op Fairtrade Chilean wines and an anticipated £45,000 in 2006. A clear conscience isn't an issue given the value these wines offer.

Fairtrade Fortnight lasts from Monday to Sunday 19 March

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