For Fairtrade Fortnight, the Co-op have been doing a series of wine tasting events around the country, with an invited audience of Co-op members, and last night there was one in Hereford.
We weren't entirely sure where the College Hall was, apart from the fact that it was close to the Cathedral, and we had the idea it might be part of the Cathedral School. The postcode gave us the location of Quay Street, and after a bit of wandering around, we found the back entrance to the hall, which is actually part of the cathedral cloisters. In 1470, according to the blue plaque we found in our search, the Vicars Choral moved from their quarters in Castle Street to their new home in the cloisters, and that was the hall that we found ourselves in, with portraits of eighteenth century clerics looking down on us and a rather fine stone fireplace - with another, nineteenth century tiled fireplace next to it.
There were a couple of presentations - the first to explain what Fairtrade is, for those who only had a hazy idea of it, and the second from the special guest Daniela Cedron, who had come from the La Riojana wine co-operative in Argentina. She works in the export department, so could tell us in some detail the difference that becoming Fairtrade certified had made to the co-operative and to the communities around it, especially the village of Tilimuqui. For instance, there used to be only a primary school for the local children, who couldn't get education after the age of twelve because their families couldn't afford to send them the long distance to a secondary school. Now there's a secondary school which is also a training college, so they can train local youngsters in the skills needed to run the winery instead of importing experts from outside the area. The first pupils will graduate this year, and the school has grown from 33 pupils when it opened to over 300 now - which also provides jobs for other local people, as kitchen staff, and also as tutors. Young people who had left the village for the bright lights and better opportunities of the cities are now returning, and people are choosing to come to the area so they can send their children to the new school. The Fairtrade premium has also helped to provide a better water supply for the village. The local people meet once a year to decide what the money should be spent on for the benefit of the whole community.
Daniela's grandfather was the second person to join the wine co-operative, which was set up in 1940 by Italian immigrants to Argentina (very sensibly getting as far away from Europe as possible!). He died three years later, but her grandmother carried on, and as they grew up so did her mother and aunt.
There was a question and answer session, in which Jo decided to ask a question that she had been bursting to ask since the lady from the Co-op said that all the bananas sold at the Co-op are now Fairtrade. In the Hay branch there are some which are labelled Fairtrade (which always sell out first) and others which are not labelled.
During the wine tasting itself, one of the Co-op chaps actually phoned up Stuart, the manager of Hay Co-op, to find out about the bananas, and came to the table to assure Jo that they really were all Fairtrade; it was just that they didn't want to make a song and dance about it because some customers assumed Fairtrade = Expensive. All their own brand tea and coffee is now Fairtrade as well, and of course they carry Fairtrade products from other companies.
And so to the wines, starting with whites and the Pinot Grigio, which was very bright and fresh in the mouth. It was quite a contrast with the second wine, the Torrontes Chardonnay, which was very mellow. The Torrontes grape is an Argentinian variety, or at least has become very popular in Argentina.
The red wines were the Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a strong tannin taste to it, and the Malbec, another grape which has really taken off in Argentina. This, again, was more mellow (but what do I know about wine tasting? I'm normally a beer drinker!). There was also a selection of cheeses between the white and red wines, which seemed to go down very well.
One of the good things about the evening was that you got to see the human face behind the product - and that always makes it more likely that you'll pick that wine up when you're browsing the selection rather than something else.
It was a very enjoyable evening out.