Viña de la Solidaridad
The 2001 economic crisis in Argentina severely affected growers, including those of the provinces of San Luis and Mendoza. With the devaluation of the Argentinean peso, job losses and a sharp decline in vineyard revenues severely affected workers in the wine sector. Many Argentinean farmers and workers were forced to abandon their work to seek employment elsewhere. These were difficult times for everyone in the country - work was scarce but hardship can sometimes be the mother of innovation.
A fair and profitable alliance
In 2005, ten landowners and nine contratistas joined together to form Viña de la Solidaridad (or Viñasol), a non-profit, democratic association of wine grape growers in Argentina. The members of this new venture sought not only to improve their working conditions, but also to preserve the historically prosperous relationship between contratistas and landowners that has shaped the cultural heritage of Argentinean wine to this day.
The association currently owns 200 acres of vineyards and one third of the land is certified organic. The members of the cooperative plan to convert more acres to organic farming in the coming years.
Who are the contratistas ?
The contratistas represent a unique and traditional labour relationship in Argentina. Emigrating from Tuscany in the mid-nineteenth century, Italians settled in the Mendoza region which seemed favourable for growing wine grapes. As they were not land owners, these workers, who were essential to the maintenance of vineyards, formed strong partnerships with vineyard owners. In addition to receiving base wages, contratistas were also entitled to a percentage of the vineyards revenues. However, this traditional arrangement was severely undermined during the economic collapse of 2001, when employment without contracts, lower wages, and little social protection became increasingly common.
A vineyard that stands out
By 2008, Viñasol became Fair Trade Certified, which provided members with greater access to new, higher value markets, new opportunities, and hope for a more prosperous future.
The association sells between 20 and 30% of its grapes to the Bodega Furlotti, which produces the same Soluna wines that can be found in Canada and around the world and that bear the Fair Trade certification mark. Soluna wines are made exclusively from grapes grown by Viñasol members, and the name represents a marriage between the sun and moon (in Spanish, "sol" means sun, and "luna" means moon).
But Soluna has a lot more going for it than a pretty name - in February 2008, the London Independent named Soluna Premium Malbec the best Fair Trade certified red wine in the world.
The Role of Fair Trade
Through higher revenues, Fair Trade continues to support Viña de la Solidaridad mission of improving working conditions and strengthening relationships between landowners and contratistas, which has become a part of the cultural heritage of Argentina's vineyards.
To date, the members of Viñasol have used their premiums to:
- Provide scholarships for their children
- Pay for a bus to take 126 children from the region to and from school
- Increase their incomes
- Build or rennovate houses of about thirty workers
- Build a new cafeteria for workers
- Hire health workers
- Buy computers