Few members will be aware that we employ a professional chemist who also happens to be a
Master of Wine to carry out regular audits of our principal suppliers. What does this involve?
Could this be the best job in the world? Our auditor David Bird MW explains the process
Audits, audits, audits! Is this just
another symptom of our current
fetish for bureaucracy? The origins
of this activity can be traced back to
The Food Safety Act of 1991, which
introduced the concept of ‘due
diligence’, a phrase widely used in
present day legislation. This Act states
that any company producing foodstuff
(and this includes liquids) must show
due diligence and take all reasonable
precautions to ensure that its product
is wholesome and will not harm
Who is responsible?
David inspects Juan Gil’s old monastrell vines, Jumilla
The Society offers a very wide range
of wines that are sold under the
label of the original producer, the
responsibility for which lies with the
producer, whose name and address
are on the label. The Society also has
an extensive range of wines under the
name of The Society and The Society’s
Exhibition labels, but in this case the
responsibility lies with The Society
to ensure that the requirements
of The Food Safety Act are met.
This led to the development of a
programme of quality audits of all
suppliers of such wines.
Whatever we might think about
modern legislation, the application
of this Act has been sensibly treated.
Proportionality has come into play.
It would be unreasonable to expect
The Society to audit all of its suppliers
every year, so it has been accepted
that due diligence has been applied if
it can demonstrate that a programme
of auditing is in place, starting with
those suppliers that have the biggest
volume and are the easiest to audit.
Planning our annual audit
Every year an audit programme is
planned in conjunction with The
Society’s buyers, who decide which
suppliers are to be used for Society
labels. The quality control manager and
the technical advisor then construct
the programme taking into account any
problems that might have occurred in
the past or whether a new supplier is
being used for the first time. Suppliers
are then contacted and are warned
that an audit is imminent; this elicits
a varied response, from a feeling of
horror, to one of a warm welcome!
I have to say at this point that I never
go in as a policeman with a negative
attitude, but rather as a friendly
consultant and a wine fanatic, which is
the secret to a good relationship.
The day usually starts with
a visit to the vineyard
A new supplier will always wonder
what is involved, to which I can
answer, ‘Everything, from the planting
of a vineyard to the wine in the final
bottle.’ So the day usually starts with a
visit to the vineyard in the company of
the viticulturist. This is the moment
when I have to ensure that I keep my
eye on the audit and do not get too
distracted by the wonderful views and
the possibility of endless photographs
of vines because photography is one
of my hobbies and great passions.
(You can find many pictures of the
vineyards that supply Wine Society
wines on my website dbqa.com )
…then it’s the winery – the
processes and equipment
Then we move to the winery and
inspect the processes and equipment
that are used to convert the grapes
into wine. Here we are looking for
processes that enable the latent quality
within the grape to be preserved
and not lost due to bad equipment or
poor procedures. This is where my
experience of a vast range of wineries
comes into play, in that I can, if
necessary, suggest better practices
gleaned from other producers (unless
such information is private, in which
case I will keep silent). Most of The
Society’s suppliers have beautiful
modern equipment made of stainless
steel, supplemented where necessary
by traditional oak casks.
Franck Laloue, supplier of our Exhibition Sancerre, shows off his tidy hose rack!
…and the bottling
The mobile bottling line arrives at Domaine Jaume, home of The Society’s Côtes du Rhône
Next we move on to the bottling hall
– if there is one! Some of our smaller
suppliers make use of a mobile bottling
line, which might sometimes be seen as
a negative indication, but this is not so.
There are some extremely professional
units in operation, where everything
that is expected of a first-class bottling
line is in place: modern filtration
equipment, bottle-rinsing machine,
filler that is capable of sterile bottling,
with all the most up-to-date safeguards
that prevent any contamination
occurring. On the other hand, it is
perfectly possible to bottle wine in an
old-fashioned cellar deep underground,
surrounded by old wine casks full of
wine that is maturing gently and quietly,
waiting until the time comes for it to
be offered to the bottling machine.
The unavoidable form filling
The next part of the audit process is
perhaps less interesting, but is equally
important: the Quality Assurance
(QA) procedures and processes. The
time spent on this varies enormously
according to the manner in which the
supplier has approached what is often
regarded as boring bureaucracy, but in
reality is an essential part of the
modern production of any foodstuff.
A certain amount of paperwork is
inevitable, but nowadays much of it is
held on computer. There are some
very clever ready-made programs that
are available whereby every action
during the winemaking is recorded, and
complete traceability is possible from
the wine in the bottle back to the very
grapes from which it was made.
I never go in as a policeman
with a negative attitude,
but rather as a friendly
consultant and a wine
fanatic, which is the secret
to a good relationship.
At last, the best part of the day! Tasting at Bodegas Palacio, home of The Society’s Rioja
QA procedures can be conveniently
wrapped up within accreditation to
one of the several systems available,
but with variable degrees of success.
The most widely used one nowadays
has been successfully promulgated in
the United Kingdom by the British
Retail Consortium (BRC), but in
Germany and France the International
Food Standard (IFS) has found favour.
The requirements of these standards
are slightly different, but a new
international standard, ISO22000, is
gradually taking over, which will help
in unifying the requirements.
A final tour of the establishment
completes the audit process: looking
at general tidiness, the care taken over
the storage of dangerous chemicals
and particularly at the state of the
area where broken glass is collected, a
region where many wineries fall down.
…and finally we get to
taste the wine!
And, at last, the best part of the day:
a tasting of the range of wines
produced, and not just those that are
supplied to The Society. This is
absolute bliss after a hard day on the
feet and on the brain. One has to be
observant all the time, making sure
that nothing is missed and all is
satisfactory. But it’s a marvellous job,
especially for a wine fanatic like me!
A Chartered Chemist and Master of
Wine, David Bird is well known to
students of the Wine and Spirit Education
Trust’s Diploma for delivering the
winemaking and technical part of the
syllabus. His book Understanding Wine
Technology is essential reading for those
interested in the science behind wine and
is available to buy at dbqa.com.
All photos courtesy of David Bird.