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Wednesday, 14 April 2010 09:56

Local Wine Industry Leads World With New 'Integrity' Label

By Katy Chance

Johannesburg, April 13, (Business Day) - African wines tend to be among the most widely adorned in the world, with the usual attractive front label, informative back label (sorely lacking from many European wines), endless award stickers and the Wine of Origin certification seal around the neck.


The latter has been there since 1974, but the South African wine industry recently launched a change to the seal, creating the world's first sustainability seal as a guarantee of eco-friendly production and, up to a point, labour protection too.


The seal is issued by the Wine and Spirit Board, for bottled wines only, and is backed by a sophisticated tracking system through which the wine can be traced at every stage of the supply chain to confirm the integrity of its production.


Adoption of the seal is voluntary, at the moment, and is available only to those wineries that have passed the accreditation of the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) principles.


"The seal itself is not new," says Daniel Schietekat , IPW manager. "The new seal - which has the addition of the words 'Integrity & Sustainability' - will have the same tracking number as the Wine of Origin seal, but now the seal confirms the wine has been audited in terms of a range of issues such as integrated pest management, the health of workers, the conservation of biodiversity and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions."


Previously the Wine of Origin seal confirmed only a wine's place of origin, its variety and vintage. The seal was a collaboration between the Wine and Spirits Board (to which IPW reports), IPW, the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative, and Wines of SA (Wosa), which is responsible for the worldwide launch of the concept as part of its Brand SA campaign.


Su Birch, CEO of Wosa, says that the initiative should give another boost to SA's already widely recognised international lead in the production integrity of its wine.

"At this stage, SA is the only country to have the means to implement and certify the concept across the entire wine industry," she says.


Birch maintains more than 50% of the industry will make use of the seal this year but that this figure should rise to about 85% next year: "Then we think the other 15% will use it of their own volition, or we'll be able to make it compulsory. As the wine industry was run as a monopoly for most of the 20th century, there is quite a lot of resistance to mandating such initiatives."


Birch says the seal has been received really well by large players such as Distell, KWV and Spier, as well as a lot of the smaller estates.


The credibility of the seal obtains in its ability not only to trace the bottle back to the vineyard, but to the growing practices within that vineyard. Regular spot-checks by independent auditors ensure guidelines are complied with at all levels and that production information is accurate.


Encoded within IPW's mandate are health and safety regulations for wine industry staff working with chemicals, which include regular blood and medical tests.


Part of the wine industry's determination to "redress the wrongs of the past" is its creation and support of the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association, established in 2002.


The association aims to improve the working conditions of employees in the wine and agricultural sector through a stringent code of good practice. However, the new sustainability seal for bottled wines is not yet linked to the association.


"It is a goal for the seal to confirm a winery's adherence to the association's code eventually," says Birch. "But there are so many thousands of farms it will take quite a while, and social auditing is very expensive. There are many wine farms keen to show they're accredited to the association, but we're not yet in a position to link the two."


Birch believes local and international consumers have a strong interest in the social and environmental sustainability of SA's wine industry which, in 2008, was valued at R23bn.



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