Jem Gardener of Vinceremos dazzled the assembled company with a veritable tour de force on organic and Fairtrade wine last Friday at the Fair Traders Cooperative.
Amazingly after 25 years in the business, this was his first ever tasting featuring only Fairtrade certified wines. With over 300 wines in their range it is pleasing to see they now feature 19 Fairtrade varieties with the latest addition from Chile about to be launched(…although currently impounded by HM Customs in the UK warehouse due to some bureaucratic cock up).
Jem gave a fascinating insight into wine making and the merits of organic cultivation as well as providing a picture of life in the areas of South Africa and Argentina from which the selection of wines tasted originated. He then took a range of questions from the floor covering such topics as vegan friendly finings, iron content, and why the lower sulphur content of organic wines may be less likely to produce a hangover. We also learnt what a big difference Fairtrade is making to the lives of the farmers in the rural communities involved.
Suitably encouraged and feeling quite virtuous we gave into the temptations of the grape and tasted the refreshing fruity Torrontes and crisp Sauvignon blanc before moving on to the excellent Shiraz rose. Then came a series of very fine reds; Merlot, Shiraz and then the new Malbec/Shiraz. All these wines are both organic and Fairtrade and available from the Fair Traders Co-operative for under £10/bottle.
Master of ceremonies Ben Doherty kept our glasses regularly replenished and an excellent time was enjoyed by all.
Anyway did you know that the biggest and most recent group of immigrants to Argentina are Italian-this explains why they not only produce very fine wine but the blighters regularly continue to thrash as at football. Amazing what you can find out as a member of the Fair Traders Co-operative!
In terms of character and origins, you would be hard-pressed to find a wine distributor which could match the Leeds-based, organic specialist Vinceremos.
The story goes that 25 years ago, the founder was travelling over to Singapore to visit his father by plane, and was anotoriously difficult traveller. Given that he was a student and money was tight, he was travelling with the cheap Soviet carrier Aeroflot, something which only added to his anxiety. On this such occasion, he dealt with his fear of flying (aerophobia ) by indulging in copious amounts of liquid courage throughout the flight. Upon his return to England, he was so taken with the Soviet wine that he had partaken in aboard the Aeroflot plane, that he sought it out only to find it in scarce supply, save for a lonely Soviet store in London. Thus he resolved to begin importing rare alcoholic drinks himself.
The slogan for the company was “drinks with a difference”, highlighting the unique range and variety offered in the rare wines that they were offering. In the early days this was almost exclusively from the developing world: India, Peru, Lebanon, Algeria, Zimbabwe; as well as from eastern Europe.
Vinceremos were a company that was somewhat ahead of its time in their efforts to consciously effect development through trade in dealing with the eastern bloc, developing and emerging countries mentioned above. The standards and mechanisms for fair-trade were a long way off however it can be considered a prototype approach in many ways, pushing the agenda of ‘trade not aid’ with the suppliers.
This sensibility is further displayed by the company’s attitude towards apartheid-era South Africa. They had no dealings with any of the many producers in the country, instead dealing with the, then globally welcome Zimbabwe whose wines would be sold in the UK as a means of supporting the anti-apartheid movement. Even once apartheid ended, the company waited until the ANC gave the green light for outside companies to commence trading with the country. Something that others cannot also claim.
Since those days, Vinceremos has grown in stature and size to be the premier specialist wine distributor in the UK, concentrating on supplying organic wines. Their clients range from small wine clubs to retail outlets, restaurants and a small number of exports to the continent. It has also diversified beyond wines into Beers, Spirits, Cider and Fruit drinks. In addition to this, an ever increasing number of fair-trade certified wines are available.
Jem Gardener, the current chief executive, was formerly the proprietor of an organic whole foods shop and also a vegetarian restaurant, and is now responsible for leading the company into one of the more successful periods of their history. Having ridden the recent economic storm, they have just added a fair-trade certified Chilean winery to their catalogue soon after one in Argentina, a sign of improving fortunes.
It is not however a simple matter of diversification and sourcing rare wines for sale in the UK. There is the cautionary tale of what can happen when the infrastructure of the country isn’t in place. Jem tells of the distillery in Nicaragua running out of glass to bottle the rum, and so instead it was sold in plastic bags like a goldfish at a fairground. Needless to say, the association between distillery and distributor could not last much longer.
For the future, in order for Vinceremos to continue fulfilling the slogan of 25 years ago, it will require stable politics in many countries where this hasn’t been the case such as the old Soviet republics, Uruguay and even Zimbabwe. What is certain is that the company will retain the stead-fast commitment to organic and fair-trade beverages which has been present ever since a boozy Aeroflot flight to Singapore.