Re-neighing on quality

The recent horse meat scandal has been ‘stirruping’ some debate (and a whole spate of jokes!) and revealed flaws in the system, embarrassing big names along the way. Tesco, Aldi and Findus have all been found be inadvertently peddling the fraudulent flesh.  Should consumers be worried that what’s on the label is really in the packet or the bottle?

Horse meat is not dangerous. But the fact remains that the consumer would like to know what they are eating – if it says ‘beef’ on the label, it should be beef in the packet. Perhaps consumers would be happy to buy inexpensive horse meat (after all horse meat is happily eaten all over the world) rather than expensive beef but they have the right to choose. Check out our blog for some recipes!

The fact that horses have ended up in ‘beef’ products does not, according the Economist, herald a collapse in the system. It cannot be compared to genuine safety issues like the outbreak in the 90s of CJD (a human version of mad cows disease) contracted by eating infected meat. Food safety is still light years ahead of where it was just a century ago when food poisoning was a significant cause of death.

Big brands have reputations to protect. Audits were introduced by UK supermarkets for traceability through the supply chain. An audit by Tesco of its suppliers is known to be simultaneously feared and respected. Excelsior is subject to multiple different audits each relating to the markets we supply to (Global GAP, IPW cellar and farm, BRC, HACCP and WIETA) . Naturally the work involved in all these audits is considerable and pushes up costs. Wouldn’t it be great if there could be a global standard for, in the case of wine, the production of grapes and another for the manufacturing side (what happens in the cellar and the bottling process)?


The wine industry in South Africa is already very well regulated. At Excelsior we open our cellar doors twice a week to an inspector. We can trace wine back to each block in the vineyard and have detailed records of what has happened to those grapes since hitting the cellar doors. In order to sell wine as a certain varietal we must be able to trace in detail the whole process from the vineyard block to the bottle. Up to 15% can be another varietal or up to 15% can be the same varietal from a previous crop without declaration on the label (although all must be declared to the inspectors). For example we could label a bottle as Cabernet Sauvignon if it contained 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot without declaring the Merlot element on the label.  Certification stickers on the neck of the bottle demonstrate that all the correct procedures have been followed and verify that what it says on the label is in fact what is in the bottle.How do you know what's in the bottle?

What the horse-beef scandal has revealed is the pressures within the current food chain. Prices of raw materials are going up but tight-fisted consumers don’t want to pay more. Retailers, unwilling to relinquish massive profits (in the UK £1 in every £8 spent in retail), pass the squeeze on to the suppliers. Suppliers are forced to either take the hit themselves or use less expensive inputs. Excelsior has been approached by a major UK supermarket to send bulk wine to the UK for bottling there in a bid to save costs. We declined as there was no guarantee that the wine in a bottle labelled Excelsior would actually be Excelsior wine and we want to protect our brand and loyal consumers, as well as keeping some of the value add (the bottling process) in South Africa.

The mislabelled-beef saga shows just how convoluted the supply chain has become – the horses in question seem to have come from Romania via two intermediaries to be processed in Luxembourg before coming to Britain in ready meals.  Clearly the more elaborate the supply chain the harder it is to control and the way forward, according to a report by the Dutch bank Rabobank, is to move towards ‘dedicated’ supply chains. Retailers should stop squeezing suppliers in their quest for lower costs but that would also mean consumers must care more about quality than price.

One of the advantages of producing wine on an estate like Excelsior is that the product comes from the same source, there is no complicated ‘outsourcing’. The wine leaves the estate as a finished product which means we know that what is says on the label is exactly what is in the bottle…100% delicious Excelsior wine!

 Excelsior Merlot


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