“It was worse than a crime. It was a mistake.” – Talleyrand
re·dact verb \ri-ˈdakt\
1: to put in writing : frame
2: to select or adapt (as by obscuring or removing sensitive information) for publication or release; broadly : edit
3: to obscure or remove (text) from a document prior to publication or release
Don’t let it bring you down, It’s only castles burning – Neil Young
This is the blog I haven’t been able to write for three years. My wife wouldn’t let me write about her. Or her research. Or her system. But even she has had enough.
Having said that, TheWineRules is my blog, my outlet for digging into and understanding the contradictions of the written and unwritten rules of the wine industry. As with all miners, I often wonder if the seam I am working will just peter out one day. Instead, the thin yellow line I started excavating a few years ago just grows. I’ve never thought it a Comstock Lode type find but it has proven perversely dependable.
The recent revelation by Anthony Madigan, Editor of Wine Business Monthly in his weekly online column, TWTW, that a Winemakers Federation of Australia (WFA) employee redacted an auditors report on the instructions of WFA’s Wine Industry National Environment Committee (WINEC) Chair before sending it via email to employees of the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association leaves me thinking I’m going to need a bigger shovel. If you are unfamiliar with Madigan’s article, I suggest you read it before continuing with this.
I have been involved at first or second-hand with the effort by McLaren Vale’s Grape, Wine and Tourism Association (GWT) to obtain accreditation for its sustainability system by the WFA’s environmental assurance reporting system Entwine since day dot. The first hand experience was as the Chair of GWT when it started this process and as a Board Member of GWT for the past few years. My second-hand experience has been as partner and husband to Dr. Irina Santiago-Brown.
Irina was hired by GWT in January 2011 as a part-time employee to develop GWT’s then named Generational Farming environmental sustainability system for viticulture into a world’s best triple bottom line sustainability system for viticulture. Our mutual personal interest was established when she interviewed me while researching the origins of our system. Thus, in addition to my Board capacity, I have heard, second-hand, the goings on of her efforts to achieve accreditation over the past 44 months in the same way any couple discusses their day at the office. As with any dutiful spouse, my job is to listen, not take notes!
Since Max Allen compared Entwine unfavorably with Generational Farming in an article in The Australian in 2009, the relationship between the two bodies governing these systems has been generally tepid despite significant efforts by GWT to improve them. WFA’s prior CEO, Stephen Strachan and I had many vigorous and professional conversations on this subject among others.
I respect Stephen for his ability to argue and disagree in a productive and professional manner that is sadly lacking with most of those in leadership positions in our industry. We both appreciate the value of open debate in finding the best answers. Stephen and I shared the view that the Entwine and Generational Farming were not competitors but were rather cooperating systems that should ‘nest’ like high school and university. Current WFA Director Andrew Kay was a GWT Director when Stephen met with our Board and shared this viewpoint.
The Generational Farming story began as a small un-named and un-funded project in 2004 and grew in fits and starts from then as a community based effort to define and score best practice sustainability for vineyards. It was a logical next step for a region that had invested nearly $2 million in ‘best practice’ grower education over the preceding 10 years.
As a matter of good governance, GWT recognized that the need to be able to both quantify and share outcomes from that investment if we were to continue to collect and spend levy funds collected from growers responsibly. (WFA and other peak bodies would do well to take note of the logic employed here by our little regional association in their own undertakings.)
With the advent of Entwine as a new national system, we sought to ensure that our system did not cause our members any duplication of effort with respect to paper work. Thus, the good opinion of Entwine became a very high priority for Generational Farming.
When we first enquired in 2009, we understood that a formal and objective process for accreditation of other systems had not yet been documented by WFA and that there would be a bit of understandable to-ing and fro-ing while both systems found their feet. Five years later, the McLaren Vale system has still not received documentation from WFA that spells out exactly what is accredit-able, how to get accredited and what the expected outcomes are. Presumably, this continuing lack of an objective process is the reason that WFA employed an auditor to compare the two systems for equivalence.
After GWT’s first request for accreditation, an “Initial equivalence assessment” document prepared by independent firm TQA Australia (representing WFA) in August of 2009 concluded that “The requirements of the MVGWTA program were found to exceed the requirements of the Entwine Australia equivalence criteria, particularly in the areas of biodiversity management, training and education and IPM (integrated pest management).” It also said “Overall, the alignment of the MVGWTA is good, with the exception of the requirement for an independent audit, and the subsequent system requirements of the Entwine Australia criteria, such as documents and records, internal audits and corrective actions, and independent certification.”
From that first productive interaction, MVGWTA subsequently sought the advice of auditors as to how to best make Generational Farming auditable and implemented all of the other recommendations to finalize accreditation by WFA.
The process went slowly after that. In 2011, Mr. Strachan became aware that WFA’s WINEC Committee and employees appeared to be dragging the chain with respect to the accreditation process. Mr. Strachan made changes in the following months that he believed would improve things for WFA and Entwine’s ability to accredit other programs including ours. Not long after, Stephen moved on to seek his fortune in the commercial world. We had a long Christmas lunch at Fino to wish him well. These were the good days.
Since Stephen’s departure, and after Paul Evans’ appointment as CEO of WFA, progress has been glacial. What an engaged executive could have easily resolved in a few weeks dragged on through numerous rounds of hair-splitting argument, indecision and obstructionist behavior over years without progressing anywhere. Much of the hair-splitting related to definitional matters involving concepts like continuous improvement, ISO standards and the philosophical underpinnings of different types of environmental assessment.
When Mr. Evans chose to get personally involved in this matter in the past year, I was assured as a GWT Board member that GWT employees informed Mr. Evans of this pattern of obstructionist behavior. That this was necessary is a bitter irony after Mr. Evans had said “Our focus is not on the need to change but the way to change if we are to establish a platform for success and sustainability across the sector.” in 2012.
Despite its lofty representation of itself as a “peak body”, WFA is not a large organization. Its website lists 11 total employees including the CEO, three General Managers, three Managers and two administrative assistants. While it claims to represent over 90% of the Australian wine industry due to the size of its members’ production, it really represents something closer to 15% of actual winemaking businesses.
The self-described “voluntary” Entwine program has some 700+ participants out of an approximate 7000 vineyard businesses and about 2500 winery businesses in Australia. A large portion of these participants are businesses that sell wine grapes to WFA’s largest member, Treasury Wine Estates (TWE). TWE requires growers who sell them grapes to participate in the Entwine system. Ms. Gioia Small is the Regional Manager for Sustainability for TWE. Ms. Small is also the Chair of WINEC. The WFA (presumably Evans with Board approval) appointed her to this role.
A few things stick out about Entwine. One is that WFA has been quite adamant that their method for implementing an environmental record-keeping program based on ISO14001 and HACCP (a system developed for other horticulture markets called Freshcare) principles is the appropriate standard and method for environmental continuous improvement and assessment for the viticulture industry. Freshcare is an important standard for fresh food quality and safety for horticulture. It is not a sustainability program. Despite overlaps there are significant differences.
Another is that ISO standards demand that participation in ISO compliant systems be voluntary in nature because coerced behavior is unlikely to lead to meaningful or lasting improvement. This renders the distinction between ‘voluntary’ at Entwine and ‘mandatory’ with member’s suppliers somewhat irrelevant from systemic integrity point of view.
Another is that Entwine is not contextually situated. Sustainability is a concept that is best understood and applied within the context of the participant. For example, what is sustainable best practice in a region with significant disease pressure is very different from dry and windy McLaren Vale. While this insight is obvious to any farmer, it might seem less relevant to a head office viticulturist.
Another is that it Entwine is not a peer-reviewed system. A few weeks ago, Mr. Evans publicly dismissed some alarming alcohol abuse research by saying “not a peer review in sight.” He obviously considered that to be damning enough to dismiss its relevance entirely.
Irina’s peer-reviewed and published research on the use of ISO based systems in viticulture is revealing in its analysis of the appropriateness of numerous approaches:
“Process-based assessments are usually based on the International Organisation for Standardization Standards (ISO) standards. In agricultural assessments, a typical example is the implementation of environmental management systems (EMS) through the ISO14001 standard or through ISO-based locally developed guidelines. The greatest shortcoming of process-based assessment is that it does not ensure performance outcomes. The practical outcome of process-based methods is the production of written documentation (e.g. management plans). Furthermore, the ISO family of standards were developed mainly to provide a model for large enterprises to set and operate a management system. The ISO 14001 is a challenging and costly task for small and medium organisations.”
So, to interpret in a grape grower’s language – size matters. A lot.
Aside from being paper work intensive, not able to assure actual on farm outcomes and only being good for large organisations, why is Entwine’s approach appropriate for the near 7000 small and medium grape growers of Australia? Who benefits if not them? Why was this approach chosen? Who chose it? I can only speculate that it wasn’t the small or medium-sized members of WFA.
One of the conclusions Irina came to in developing the McLaren Vale system was that only a combination of approaches was useful for creating meaningful outcomes for all stakeholders. As such, it employs a mix of process-based, best practiced-based, indicator-based, criterion-based and compliance-based methods to achieve an easy to use system that provides outcomes, actions, pathways for improvement and meaningful data to both participants and the community.
After just three years of Irina’s involvement, the McLaren Vale System is a truly voluntary system with membership of about 25% of growers who grow about 50% of the fruit (15-20,000 tonnes) from McLaren Vale. If Entwine had similar results, it would have 1700 growers and 800,000 tonnes of fruit involved.
The now re-named “Sustainable Australia Winegrowing – McLaren Vale” (SAW-MV) was founded on the open source principle. Open source means that GWT borrowed ideas freely from other systems that permitted it to do so and that it freely shares with others in turn. This is the essence of sustainability – freely learning and educating about principles that should productively benefit man and his environment.This is also the logic that underpins GWT’s offer to gift the SAW system to the rest of Australia from this week and to re-name the system. Now any region or state can append their name to the end of the program after they have modified the system for their particular context. Or, individual growers anywhere can just sign up to use the system to get benefit from it and still comply with Entwine.
When we started on this project in earnest, local chili and grape grower Jock Harvey enrolled thought leaders in our community to develop individual chapters for grower self-assessment of best viticulture practices including topics like Pest and Disease, Irrigation, Waste Management, Employee Relations, Soil Health and Nutrition and Biodiversity. When Irina came on board, she improved these chapters to a higher standard based on the research she was doing at the University of Adelaide as a PhD candidate.
Irina’s story is that she came to Australia in 2009 as a mature student with extensive work experience in government and trade from Brazil to undertake a Masters of Science program in Viticulture at the University of Adelaide at her own (considerable) expense. Her thesis researched cost comparisons between organic, biodynamic and conventional viticulture systems.
She was subsequently encouraged to apply for a PhD program and a University scholarship. She was one of a small number of scholars at the University to be awarded a full scholarship that year.
Her masters’ research had sparked an interest in audited systems of viticulture including sustainability. She had noted the Australia, alone (with the exception of Chile at the time) among New World wine countries, lacked a major sustainability program. At about the same time as her admission to her PhD program, she coincidentally started employment working on McLaren Vale’s sustainability program on a part-time basis. Her University Dean had to approve this mutually beneficial arrangement and did so noting that she would be held to the same expectations as any full-time student on a scholarship. e.g. no slack given.
Irina then applied for research funding with the GWRDC as her research required significant travel to investigate other sustainability systems. She was one of only a few applicants to receive full funding from the GWRDC that year. The one conclusion to be drawn from this is that the University of Adelaide and the GWRDC both saw great value for our industry in having someone with a deep understanding of these subject domains in Australia.
Fast-forward three and a half years. Irina lifted the McLaren Vale system to a standard where it was successfully peer-reviewed by noted world experts. She obtained funding from the State of South Australia to have a successful and easy to use web-based GPS driven data collection and reporting system built that gives growers analytical and decision making capabilities they have never had before. It also provides reams of aggregated data that informs both regional development and academic research.
She finished her PhD in exactly three years despite only having three work days per week to work on it. Two of the three articles that comprise her thesis have been published in leading international peer-reviewed academic journals including the journal Sustainability. (The third is pending approval for publication). Her thesis has been reviewed by world experts and accepted “without comment.” That means they had nothing to add or disagree with. Both recommended her for Dean’s commendation – the highest honor. Not a bad result for someone with no science background prior to 2009 working in a second language. She graduates this Wednesday.
The only things that Irina has not been able to achieve have been accreditation for the McLaren Vale system by Entwine (until last week’s unusual events) and acknowledgement by the industry of the quality and scale of her contribution to the Australian grape and wine industry.
To whit, Irina has not even been invited (let alone to speak) to the upcoming Australian Wine Industry Environment Conference. The South Australian Wine Industry Association (SAWIA), not WFA, sponsors the conference. No matter, according to the SAWIA website, Gioia Small is on the Environment Committee there with TWE’s Stuart McNab (reprising his Director’s role on WFA’s Board) serving for many years on the Executive Committee at SAWIA. I’m assuming the SAWIA Environment Committee has something to do with the SAWIA Environment conference but that may be drawing a long bow.
In any case, it’s a small world when you’re on the outer in the Australian wine industry.
Incredibly, this conference will have a presentation called “International perspectives on environmental management in the wine industry” by a reasonable sounding bloke who got a Churchill Scholarship to study this topic. Irina has just spent three years researching and publishing the definitive peer-reviewed research on this topic with the sponsorship of the entire Australian wine industry and all Australian tax payers. But the Australian wine industry won’t be hearing about this research with SAWIA’s help. Another session, “Refreshing Entwine,” is to be presented by the redactor in question.
That others in the industry are left to infer that Irina’s extraordinarily relevant and state of the art research is not important or valuable to the Australian grape and wine industry is implicit in the choices made by SAWIA. By contrast, The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) certified VITEFF conference flew Irina to France to speak in 2013 because of their interest in her work in McLaren Vale. This was before she had even published her research.
Certification systems like “Organic” or “Sustainable” are trust marks by which the integrity of both the product and producer are conveyed to a distant consumer. Their economic value is wholly dependent on their systemic integrity and the integrity of those who develop, maintain and audit them. For Entwine and WFA to communicate such a lack of integrity by their recent actions debases the value of their mark and all those associated with it.
In this instance, Freshcare, the McLaren Vale system, the auditor Aus-qual, Entwine’s participants, WINEC committee members and WFA’s members have all suffered some diminishment of reputation by being associated with Entwine’s inappropriate behavior. And, as the default “national” system, the entire Australian wine industry’s reputation suffers by default worldwide.
What those with the power to make these subjective and poorly informed decisions appear to insufficiently value is the real harm done to many people’s reputations. It’s a bad look for a country and industry that prides itself as a place where there is a fair go for all.
As a not disinterested observer, the entire matter of WFA’s behavior over the past few years is, to me, both short-sighted and small-minded. That extraordinary results are possible with just a change of attitude seems lost upon them.
Instead of viewing the McLaren Vale system as a cooperating system that extended Entwine’s membership reach, credibility and acceptance, the WFA viewed it as a competitor.
Instead of sensing the worldwide marketing possibilities of having a sustainability system of the highest standard for Australia (finally), it tried to starve the one it had of credibility by not accrediting it for five years. New Zealand, Chile and even South Africa sailed right past Australia in global sustainability awareness in the wine market and reaped the marketing benefits of doing so during this period.
Instead of simply listening to Irina’s repeated efforts to educate them about the standards of best practice assessment methods she had learned in research paid for by the Australian grape and wine industry for its benefit, they chose to block her (including shouting her down in meetings) at every turn. That this is exactly what the redacted paragraph alludes to is no coincidence. No disinterested third-party viewing this potted history would be able to accept WFA’s behavior as being in the best interests of the entire Australian wine industry.
This behavior does raise the question of whose interests are being served however. That no one has been fired (or even kicked off a committee) immediately for committing or abetting an offense is damning. Why is the CEO of WFA protecting the employee and committee person? What consequences, and from whom, does he fear by doing so? Or, worse, does he fear no consequences himself? Is this the real motivator – that the WFA Board accepts and / or endorses this sort of behavior? Is this even possible in 2014?
This redaction wasn’t a mistake. To remove the letterhead and a conclusive paragraph from a report by an auditor (presumably the report was a pdf file and required some work to do so) after sitting on it for five weeks is not an accident either. Mr. Evans’ explanation and apparently implicit endorsement of the behavior is that it was redacted deliberately because “it was deemed inappropriate and a subjective opinion that did not reflect what both organisations were looking for in the assessment, that is, an independent and rigorous review of both programs based on solid evidence.” Parsing this alarming sentence is required.
What the Committee Chair (and by inference Mr. Evans) appears unable to comprehend or accept is that the result is the considered and informed opinion of an independent expert (McLaren Vale apparently had no say over the terms of reference for the engagement although WFA did) qualified to provide such opinions (this is what auditors do and why WFA hired Aus-qual) that reflects current best practice based on the evidence provided and that it is not a “subjective opinion.”
Further, the WINEC Chair is not legally permitted to make personal judgements upon an auditor’s professional opinion by ordering it to be redacted in providing that report to a third-party.
Lets assume that even if there was a finding in court that the Committee Chair’s judgement about the auditor’s opinion was correct, her actions would still be considered wrong. It is an indefensible position for anyone to take.
You don’t need to speculate to guess that what GWT employees were “looking for” was exactly this sort of rigorous professional opinion after five years of being stuffed around by a WINEC Committee and WFA employee who did not have an “objective” process to follow to become accredited by WINEC to Entwine.
Finally, the WINEC Chair in no way speaks for GWT and has not been authorized to do so as far as I am aware. Her remarks are intellectually contemptuous and offensive.
The presumption and arrogance presented by Small and Evans in this dismissive non-apology are precisely what is wrong in this five year saga of peak body mediocrity.
Another theory for this redaction is that perhaps WFA and WINEC do not also want anyone to know of Entwine’s potential shortcomings after the substantial amount of member and taxpayer money invested to date in a program that does not appear to have much uptake or acceptance across its 390 or so winery members.
That the WFA is willing to risk so much just to obscure what it had already been told already by Irina (and should be baseline knowledge to its employee, Committee Chair and CEO) – that Entwine could be better (and why) – is just not good enough.
Mr. Evans is the CEO of WFA. Simply put, either his employees and committee members know that unethical or illegal behavior is a termination offense or they do not. If they do not know this standard, the buck has to stop with the CEO because he presents an unmeasurable liability to his members. If the employee did know this standard, why did he take orders from a non-employee to do so and not consult Mr. Evans prior to doing so? And, finally, why are WFA employees taking orders from non-employees? Is this the real problem here? Who do they work for?
The mistake here was the attitudinal failure by much of leadership of the industry to choose greatness by grasping the opportunity to showcase great and original research being done in Australia, paid for by Australian grape and wine industry and then apply it to make its national system a world recognized, peer-reviewed system of sustainability and excellence for viticulture.
It’s been 11 days since this matter came to light. The employee is still employed, the committee chair is still in the Chair (and employed) and Evans is still CEO. SSDD.
Leadership like this is just not sustainable for Australia. It’s time to change.
What do you think?