Before returning to our visits to the Côte d’Auvergne in June, this week covers a controversy over the treatment of agricultural workers. On 14th August Eric Asimov, the wine writer for The New York Times, wrote an article published in The Business Times and also The New York Times International Edition about natural wine producer Valentina Passalacqua based in Puglia, Italy.
Wine joins the 2020 debate over privilege and justice
by ERIC ASIMOV
‘IN this topsy-turvy year of the Covid-19 pandemic and a national uproar over politics and racial injustice, few things are immune from the widespread cultural re-evaluation.
The wine world, too, is re-examining its business practices and responsibilities. In recent weeks, the focus has turned to the case of Valentina Passalacqua – a natural-wine producer in Puglia, the region at the heel of Italy’s boot – whom few Americans had ever heard of until recently.
Over the past year, though, she drew a meteoric rise in attention as her products were picked up by two of New York’s most important importers of natural wines, Zev Rovine Selections and Jenny & François Selections. Her wines were also featured by Dry Farm Wines, a natural-wine club that ships to 44 states, promising bottles that « whisper in nature’s perfect logic and design ».’
Valentina’s popularity in the United States has nosedived following the arrest of her father, Settimo Passalacqua, accused of systematic and illegal exploitation of migrant workers. It has posed uncomfortable questions for the wine world, in particular the natural wine movement. The size of Valentina estate at 80 hectares is unusual for natural wine, where many producers only have a few hectares of vines. Her size provides sufficient volume for her wines to be much more widely distributed. Given her father’s arrest and questions over whether Valentina knew of these alleged illegal practices and whether she has indirectly profited from them should people continue to import, sell and promote her wines?
The story has also been covered in very considerable detail in Simon Woolf’s Morning Claret blog in a post entitled Valentina Passalacqua – an inconvenient truth? Simon poses two important questions:
‘There are two key questions that everyone wants answered: Does Valentina Passalacqua make use of illegal labour gangs in her winery business? And was she aware of her father’s business practices and of the alleged caporalato? ‘
The exploitation of labour is not, of course, just an issue for the natural wine movement nor indeed for the whole wine industry but food and wine in general. What is the true cost of cheap food?