One day I was standing in the kitchen at work, staring off into space vacantly, as is my proclivity, when a co-worker asked me to tell her a story about Fairtrade wine. I had nothing. I searched the dusty recesses of my brain for what I may have learned at sommelier school and still, I had nothing. Organic and biodynamic wines, yes, something distant was registering there. Local wine, yes-yes, I can string together a few sentences about that, but Fairtrade wine? Nope. Nothing. Then, last weekend, I saw this bottle from Stellar Winery in the latest LCBO release and was reminded of that kitchen conversation. Well, lack of conversation to be accurate.
What exactly is a Fairtrade wine? A detailed description can be found at Fairtrade Canada, but basically the same guidelines apply to all Fairtrade products. Things like decent salaries, no forced labour, health and safely regulations... you get the idea. The majority of Fairtrade producers are currently in South Africa, Argentina and Chile: regions that have had their share of economic and political challenges within the last few centuries. This makes sense. Workers need protection where labour is cheap and government regulations may not be so stringent.
In Canada, most vineyards are tended by the winemakers themselves; grapes are usually harvested by volunteers, friends, and family. I think this is true of most small vineyards in most places in the world.
And why isn't there more Fairtrade wine? The coffee industry is all over it. We worry about sustainable agriculture, and the human toll that the fashion industry inflicts gets documented, but there is very little information to be had about this aspect of the wine industry. Maybe it's not such a large issue?
A search on the LCBO site turned up just this one bottle from South Africa, which I dipped into last night. It's nice: simple, not too complex, creamy on the palate with a focus on ripe tree fruit (ie. peach, red apple) and a bit of lemon; nicely balanced for a wine that's 13.5 percent alcohol ($12.95). Oh, and it's organic as well.
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