The SW Summary: On human rights abuses in Brazil, France’s “organic crisis,” Bordeaux’s vine-pull scheme, and more

By Hanna Halmari
Brazilian wine giants linked to cases of modern slavery

In Meininger’s Alexandra Corvo and Robert Joseph report on the suspension of three of Brazil’s wineries following a rescue operation of over 200 workers from conditions equivalent to slavery. The three Brazilian wine giants, Salton, Aurora and Garibaldi, hired outsourced labour through an external contractor Oliveira & Santana, who promised workers “above-average salaries with free accommodation and food.” Instead, the reality was of “totally unhealthy accommodation, late payment of wages, exhausting hours, physical violence, inadequate food and even false imprisonment [and constant] punishments with electric shock and pepper spray”. 

The three wineries deny any awareness or responsibility for the workers’ conditions, and attribute all responsibility to Oliveira & Santana. Many believe the story will hamper Brazilian wine exports. Gabriele Frizon, chief operating officer of importers Belle Cave Importadora, says, “I believe it is a very negative stain on the history of Brazilian wine… Unfortunately, there will be consequences for the entire production chain… in the domestic and export markets, especially if there is no proper investigation and punishment.” Read the full story here.

“Organic crisis” in France

In Wine-Searcher Barnaby Eales reports on the “organic crisis” in France. Many wine producers want to convert to organic viticulture, but face significant commercial challenges in doing so. For example, Château Malescasse in Bordeaux had to abandon its organic conversion due to “difficulties selling wine.” Head of viticulture Nicolas Dubedout explains how “it is only once you are a certified organic producer that sales can really pick up. During the conversion to organics, there is no impact and costs are very expensive in the current climate.”

The impacts of this are clear. Data from France’s organic agency, Agence Bio (AB), highlights the decline in organic production: 448 French growers stopped being certified organic in 2022 (compared to 188 in 2020), and the number of growers who started conversion to organic certification fell from 1510 in 2021 to 222 last year. Sales of organic wine have also fallen year on year, and many attribute this to inflation as well as “the rise of rival HVE wine producers using the label to sell their wines at lower prices.”

The HVE, Haute Valeur Environmentale, is a highly contested environmental label that was created by the French state in 2012. Not only are HVE label wines replacing organic sales, but they are also hindering sustainable transformation in the industry. Earlier this year a group of organic agriculture organizations launched an “unprecedented legal challenge against HVE at the Conseil d’Etat, France’s High Court,” accusing the label of greenwash. Read the full story here.

Scotland to proceed with bottle return scheme despite opposition

Meininger’s reports on how Scotland plans to go ahead with its bottle return scheme this summer, despite strong trade opposition. In an effort to improve low recycling rates, the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is due to come into effect on 16th August, obliging consumers to “pay a £0.20 deposit on every bottle or can they buy.” This deposit will be refunded when the item is recycled in “one of 17,000 recycling points that are now being installed across the UK.”

The outlook for the scheme looks somewhat promising, given the fact that the 664 companies who have signed up to the scheme “represent 95% of the beverages sold in single-use packaging in Scotland.” However, over 3000 producers have not signed up, and the UK Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has raised concerns about the scheme being introduced across the UK. 

The WSTA argues that the scheme is not inclusive of those who struggle to travel, and points out the negative environmental impact of the energy required for the recycling points and for the travel to and from these. Specific concerns have been raised around the inclusion of glass in the scheme. Stakeholders in the glass industry worry that the scheme will “reduce the purity of flint cullet collections” (clear glass), and that it may lead to glass factory closures as producers move towards plastic and other materials. Read more here.

Bordeaux confirms funding for vine-pull scheme

Following a series of strikes by vignerons in Bordeaux, the French government has agreed to a fund to help winegrowers pull up thousands of hectares of vineyard. Christian Smith reports on the vine-pull scheme in the drinks business. Of the total €57 million, €38 million will be provided by the government and the remainder will be financed by Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB), subject to board approval.

According to the CIVB, Bordeaux had roughly 108,000 hectares of vines in 2022 and an estimated annual overproduction of 40m bottles (300,000hl). The fund will allow around 9,500 hectares of vines to be pulled up, in the hopes of relieving some of the financial pressures facing winegrowers in the region. Read more 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.