Is Fairtrade wine “Fair Value”?

Fair Trade Header

Despite having been available for well over a decade, Fairtrade-certified wine is still something of a rarity.  The Co-op, which has claimed to be the world’s largest retailer of Fairtrade wine, currently has 22 listed online but Sainsbury’s has only 10 and, for most retailers, you’re talking low single digits.  That’s out of some 4,000 wines on the shelves of the major supermarkets at any one time.

Why has Fairtrade failed to make a bigger impact?  Partly geography: the world’s wine-growing regions are concentrated between 30-50 degrees north and south of the equator, in temperate climates where severe agricultural poverty is far less prevalent.  Parts of Argentina and Chile do produce Fairtrade wine but it is not surprise that South Africa tends to dominate the category and has tried to carve out a niche for itself.  The other issue is value.  Perhaps unfairly, there has been a perception that putting a Fairtrade sticker on a bottle absolves producers from delivering a properly-made at fair value, that consumers will focus on the message not the product.
So we put that proposition to the test: is Fairtrade wine “Fair Value”.
Of the 40 wines explicitly labelled as Fairtrade that Wotwine has tasted, none was rated as “Good Value”, meaning worth more than 10% above the retail price.  Equally disappointingly, only one was felt to over-deliver on quality (and marginally at that), with most being below par, particularly the whites.
We have therefore worked with them to pick out some examples of wines which they rate as “Fair Value”.  The sample is small and, in a couple of cases at Sainsbury’s, the prices have gone up since they were tasted but we can only work with what is on the shelves.  You may also find that the vintage has changed since we tasted them but, to be fair, this is much less of an issue in South Africa and South America than it would be in, say, Western Europe where vintage variations are typically greater.  All the wines are from Co-op or Sainsbury so some kudos to both for at least trying to cover this segment but there is clearly some way to go.
To begin, two whites, both from Co-op’s own label range of Fairtrade wines.  Neither is particularly good value, to be honest, but let’s issue a collective challenge to the wine trade to up their game!
co-op-fairtrade-chardonnay-viognier
Co-op Fairtrade Chardonnay Viognier 2017
From: Co-op
Price: £6.00
Wotwine thinks this is worth: £5.00
Tasting note: Ripe, peachy wine with preserved citrus fruit and a sweet edge
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co-op-fairtrade-chenin-blanc

Co-op Fairtrade Chenin Blanc 2017
From: Co-op
Price: £4.80
Wotwine thinks this is worth: £4.50
Tasting note:  Simple, dull wine with some ripe yellow fruit and a short finish
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There is a marginally better selection of reds, with some well-made wines, but fair value is still remarkably hard to come by. The first, again from Co-op, genuinely impressed us, irrespective of its Fairtrade status and over-delivers at its price.
 co-op-fairtrade-cabernetsauvignon
Co-op Fairtrade Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
From: Co-op
Price: £6.50
The Wotwine panel thinks this is worth: £7.00
Tasting note:  Bright, fresh wine with lifted damson and bramble fruit

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co-op-fairtrade-bonarda-shiraz

Co-op Fairtrade Bonarda/Shiraz
From: Co-op
Price: £5.25
Wotwine thinks this is worth: £5.50
Tasting note:  Thin, simple but a crowd pleaser. Not bad

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SAINSBURYS_Leap-point-pinotage

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Fairtrade Pinotage 2017
From: Sainsbury’s
Price: £7.50
The Wotwine panel thinks this is worth: £6.50
Tasting note:  A rich wine with plum and cherry aromas, hints of violet and spicy oak

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