Ethical wines from social enterprise
Club VertuVin is a group of French charities which look after adults with learning disabilities and which, as part of a range of activities that they are involved in, own vineyards and make wine. To fund their cause, these ESATs produce and sell various regional delicacies (jam, oysters, wine…) and provide services to the local community and businesses such as laundry, gardening, or agricultural contract work.
The principles of Club VertuVin are clear from the name, that is, to promote all that is good and virtuous within winemaking, focusing on not only the natural element but also the human element. The Club has a members’ charter which encapsulates these five points:
- sustainable development,
- good citizenship,
- the support of people with learning disabilities,
- building a strong worthwhile entity over pure commercial gain
- and rigorous working practices allied with complete transparency in all things
The Club is the brainchild of Pierre Hoerter, himself director of one of the member ESAT vineyards, Domaine du Stierkopf in Alsace. Each ESAT is an independent charity, and the benefit to each of joining the Club is that they can then market their wines together and create a more attractive range of wines to attract bigger buyers. They currently have a contract to supply French supermarket chain Simply Market (part of the Auchan group) and together with Rive Gauche Wines are developing export sales.
Organic, biodynamic, Fair Trade – Club VertuVin!
Consumers are now familiar with these first three terms and many have grown quite demanding in their search for products that give something back to nature and the community. Almost all large businesses have adopted CSR strategies to respond to the demands of their customers and employees. Club VertuVin’s offer lies firmly in this direction and as such will register favourably with a large proportion of the public during the selection and buying process.
Organic and Fair Trade took some time to establish themselves and become mainstream factors in wine production. Club VertuVin will also need time to reach the desired level, but no doubt those businesses which embrace the Club’s project early and are amongst the first to distribute their wines will stand to gain the most in the medium and long term.
How big is Club VertuVin?
At launch, in 2016, the Club had eight members in France, all ESATs that own their own vineyards, producing between them less than a million bottles of wine per year. This is a tiny scale compared to the commercial brands we all recognise, many of which produce tens of millions of bottles each and the potential of developing awareness about the movement was therefore quite limited.
However, the ESATs aim to welcome as many people with learning difficulties as possible and have many workers available, so they also find work for their teams in neighbouring vineyards to complete regular seasonal tasks like pruning, deleafing and harvesting. (The quality of work undertaken by the ESAT teams is very high indeed as the workers take huge pride in what they can do, although the rate of work is slower than some regular vineyard workers.) This means that each ESAT has a sphere of influence, a client base of local wine producers whose wines are related to the VertuVin cause, but without being members of the Club itself. From these producers also can be drawn larger volumes of wines for distribution and sale.
In 2017 the founders sought official third-party accreditation for their charter and their working practices through Ecocert, to ensure that any future members would be certified independently as adhering to the same high standards. This step allows for the range of wines on offer to broaden, to include those producers who give contract work to people with learning disabilities, for example Château Smith Haut Lafitte in Bordeaux.
In this way the project is full of growth potential and will surely gain in importance over the coming years, through its appeal to a wine-drinking public who are motivated by similar issues as organic farming, or Fair Trade enterprise.
Who benefits from Club VertuVin?
Essentially, the people who are looked after by the member charities. A typical profile would be a person with Downs Syndrome or autism, or perhaps the victim of a major life event which has disrupted their normal mental functions and presented them from continuing in their career, or from living independently in the community. Many governments are reducing funding for such care and passing more and more responsibility back to families, and they themselves benefit from the support of these ESATs.
The ESAT workers benefit by receiving support and care in their centres, where they learn a skill and the importance of participation through work, and they learn to take on (appropriate levels of) responsibility within the organisation. Knowing that they are participating in and contributing to the local community and economy is a boost to their wellbeing, and they benefit financially in the form of remuneration for the work done at fair rates.
By increasing awareness of these ESATs and by promoting sales of their products and services, Club VertuVin works to ensure that the centres will survive in an economic climate where government funding in France is increasingly harder to secure. Not only survive but grow and flourish, so allowing more people who badly need this type of care and support to benefit now and in the future.
Why should this be of interest to your business?
Charity can be as much, if not more, empowering for the giver as it is for the recipient, and it is often said that the true test of any civilization is in how it cares for its most members who need the most help. Certain countries seem to embrace this idea more than others: individuals in the USA are almost twice as generous in giving to charities as those in the UK or Canada, who are in turn far ahead of other countries like Japan, Italy or Germany.
We are seeing a significant move in consumer habits towards a more serious, responsible choice of product and consumers are actively seeking opportunities to combine their consumer habits (for example the wine they drink) with a desire to do good and give back to society.
Openly declaring that your business supports such activities and organisations is one way that you can differentiate yourselves in a tightly competitive market, to generate extra footfall and sales. Going one step further and actively promoting Club VertuVin and its wines can further strengthen the link that your business needs to develop with its customers in order to build stability and security. Your customer’s choice to buy these wines marks them out in turn as a consumer that cares, engendering a reciprocal respect and bond between you.