The SW Summary: Berkmann relaunches Help 4 Hospitality, vegan-friendly wines, the dangers of monoculture farming, and sexual harassment within the Court of Sommeliers

By Hanna Halmari

Berkmann’s Help 4 Hospitality relaunches for UK’s second lockdown

As the UK entered its second lockdown on the 5th of November, London-based Berkmann Wine Cellars relaunched its Help 4 Hospitality initiative to support the on-trade. According to the press release, during the first spring lockdown, Berkmann’s pop-up online wine shop “raised over £75K for businesses within the hospitality sector.” 

The initiative operates the same way as before. Hospitality outlets that join the scheme will receive a voucher code to share with their mailing list. Customers who use the code will receive a 10% discount (up from 5% during the first lockdown). Berkmann will then donate 20% of the revenue (up from 12.5% during the first lockdown) to the hospitality industry. It is up to the customer to choose whether the donation goes to their selected hospitality outlet, or whether the donation is split “between two charities supporting the hospitality industry: The Drinks Trust and Hospitality Action.” 

For more information click here and find the Help 4 Hospitality site here

What makes a wine vegan-friendly?

In light of World Vegan Month, Simon J Woolf takes a look at what makes a wine ‘vegan-friendly’ in his article for Club Oenologique. Whilst it would seem obvious to assume that all wine is vegan given it is made from grapes, Woolf points out how this is not the case. For example, when wine goes through a fining process, “whereby a fining agent is added to the wine to bind and extract unwanted solid matter or particles,” it may come into contact with animal derivatives. This is because many traditional fining agents use ingredients “such as egg whites…isinglass (ground fish bladders), casein (derived from milk) and gelatin.” Although the fining agents are removed prior to bottling the wine, “their use, even as processing aids, is considered unacceptable by vegans.”

Alternatives to animal-derived fining agents include bentonite, which is a type of clay, or Poly-vinyl-poly-pyrrolidone, which is a micro-plastic. However, since the fining agents are not included in the finished product, they do not need to be declared on the label. As such, it can be difficult for consumers to ascertain whether a vegan-friendly fining agent has been used or not. Therefore, Woolf recommends that those looking to purchase vegan-friendly wines opt for natural or artisanal wines that “state ‘unfiltered and unfined’ on the label” to guarantee the absence of any fining agents.  Simply looking for organic or biodynamic certifications will not suffice, “because most natural fining agents are permitted for these schemes.”

Other processes that prevent wine from being classified as vegan include the use of beeswax seals and the less-obvious process of “the use of animal collagen-based glues” for attaching labels to bottles.

With no “internationally agreed legal definition of what constitutes a vegan product,” the concept can be stretched. According to the article, some claim that for a wine to be vegan, its production cannot involve “any use of animals, animal-derived manure or fertilisers.” Such a definition automatically excludes all biodynamic wines, as their production involves the use of cow horns and manure in the vineyard. Woolf quotes Ronja Berthold, head of public affairs at the European Vegetarian Union (Euroveg) who stresses how the European Union needs a definition that is practical “so that people can actually find vegan products on the shelves.”

Even without an internationally agreed legal definition, “the demand for vegan wines looks set to keep growing.” According to The Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK has increased fourfold from 2014 to 600,000 people in 2019.  Read more here.

The dangers of monoculture farming

Writing for Harpers, Jo Gilbert discusses the need for increased biodiversity in vineyards. Gilbert quotes John Williams, winemaker and owner of Frogs Leap in Napa, who states how “conventional farming systems are about pushing life out of vineyards” and calls for the wine industry to “break-up these monocultures.” The benefits of increased biodiversity in the vineyard are well known, namely “[healthier] and more robust ecosystems.”

However, Gilbert refers to Williams as “a winemaker in the minority,” for he devotes 6-7% of his land to crops other than vines “in a region where a single hectare costs on average $1m.”  There remains a resistance among the wine world to adopting more sustainable practices. This resistance was a key topic of discussion in ‘The Role of Diversity in Vines’ panel session in the Porto Protocol’s Climate Talks series, focused on “how the wine industry can help mitigate an increasingly turbulent climate.” 

Gilbert quotes panelist Michael Goëss-Enzenberg, owner of Manincor estate in northern Italy, who stressed the importance of “bringing life back to your land,” meaning “animals; microorganisms in the soil; seeds and other plants between the vines to attract insects, bees and birds.”

According to panelist Pedro Beja, coordinating researcher at Portugal’s Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources, decades of over reliance on chemicals, “mechanisation, irrigation… simplification of landscapes and harmful monocultures” have sacrificed the environment and biodiversity “at the expense of in-demand crops.”

The panel strongly encouraged vineyards to move towards more sustainable farming practices, emphasising how the steps could be both small and slow. Goëss-Enzenberg commented how the change is faster than most expect, sharing how “within a year of planting cover crops – bringing other plants into your soil – you see the first change. You’ll see little bugs and animals that help you to cultivate the soil.”

The panel also stressed how the introduction of biodiversity does not necessarily require crop reduction, with Goëss-Enzenberg pointing out how possibilities for animals can be introduced “at the edges, or steeper [parts of the vineyard].” Read more here.  

Sexual harassment within the Court of Master Sommeliers-Americas

The New York Times recently published Julia Moskin’s article, in which she exposes the sexual harassment charges within the Americas chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS-A). The CMS-A is the examination body that awards the prestigious master sommelier title, of which there are only 155 of in America. Only 24 of these are women. 

Moskin reports on the experiences of the 21 female candidates who “told The New York Times that they have been sexually harassed, manipulated or assaulted by male master sommeliers.” According to the article, “the abuse is a continuing problem of which [the CMS-A] leadership has long been aware.” Moskin quotes master sommelier Jonathan Ross, who comments how “among certain men, there’s no attempt to hide it and no shame in it. It’s like something from another era.”

The article recounts the candidates’ experiences of sexual harassment and assault, unearthing the highly toxic culture of a “system that should provide mentorship and equal opportunity” but is instead “a bastion of sexual harrassment and coercion.” It also reveals the shocking failures of the CMS-A board to appropriately deal with complaints of sexual harassment. 

Since the article was published, the CMS-A has suspended 11 master sommeliers and the chairman of the board of the CMS-A chairman has resigned.

The full New York Times article can be read here


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About the author

Hanna Halmari

Hanna Halmari is the editor at Sustainable Wine and the head of conferences at Innovation Forum. Hanna specialises in sustainability research and events across various industries. She holds an MSc in international development from Kings’s College London, where she developed a strong interest in political economy and post-communist transformation. Hanna speaks Finnish, Bulgarian and English. In her spare time she is a dedicated Radio Lollipop volunteer at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, enjoys travelling, and tasting new wines.