Disease, industrial relations and dodgy dealings dominate the wine news again this week.
This week saw wine’s reputation as a luxury good cemented by yet another high-profile theft, this time with an Ocean’s Eleven-style break-in at top LA wine and liquor store, Lincoln Fine Wines in Venice. The thief reportedly got away with top bottles of Pétrus and a $6000 bottle of The Last Drop Scotch.
This was also the week in which we learned that Egyptian king Tutankhamun may have died in a drink-driving crash with excess white wine consumption combined with an ill-advised spin in the royal chariot given as a major theory behind the famous monarch’s demise.
In more serious news, we learned that celebrated and outspoken natural winemaker Julie Balagny had died of a heart attack last Saturday (July 1) in her adopted Beaujolais. She was 49.
Here, though, are some of the headlines you might have missed.
Mildew returns to Bordeaux
A second wave of mildew has hit the Bordeaux wine region, according to wine news website Vitisphere.com. Following the first major wave noted in the area last month (see Mildew Threatens Bordeaux), a major bout of rain in the last week June, followed by warm weather and – significantly – a notable lack of wind has seen the disease return to frustrate grapegrowers.
“The problem is it’s not drying out,” Aurélia Souchal-Caumont, head of the Cérons Winegrowers’ Union told the publication. “It’s muggy and even if it doesn’t rain there are very high levels of humidity.”
Souchal-Caumont said that red varieties – Merlot in particular – were the most affected. Meanwhile Régis Falxa, president of the Vignerons Indépendants de Gironde organization said the pressure was “very high” across all varieties, irrespective of their growth stage.
Many growers have already made numerous passes in the vines in attempts to control the spread. According to one source, mildew was “almost everywhere” around Bourg and Blaye with some plots already lost to the disease.
It remains to be seen whether or not the disease will progress as the growing season enters the final stretch before harvest.
“The first wave had dried out here and there, but this second wave is a worry,” said Etienne Laveau, organic viticultural consultant to the region’s chamber of agriculture, and co-manager of Château Piney in Saint-Emilion. “We’ll have to see how it behaves: will it progress onto the stalks [of the bunches]? Will we keep it contained?”
Court orders Rioja increase salaries
Following protests demanding meaningful salary increases for winery and vineyard workers in Haro in May (see Strikes Threatened in Rioja), the superior regional court in Logroño has found in favor of the protestors, forcing employers to increase wages in the sector by 3.87 percent.
According to regional news website, Haro Digital, the court found that workers were entitled to the raise due last year. This was calculated through effectively taking the rise in the consumer price index and deducting the proposed salary increases of 2021 (1.3 percent) and prorated seniority (1.33 percent).
Although it is not known whether business interests will appeal the ruling (the Rioja Business Federation, or Federación de Empresas de La Rioja had initially opposed the workers’ recourse to the courts), the CCOO, UGT and USO unions welcomed the decision, calling it “good news”. Strikes had been threatened for harvest time.
Top sommelier jailed for on-selling wines
Guillermo Cruz, named best sommelier in Spain in 2014 and former sommelier at the two Michelin-starred Mugaritz hotel just outside San Sebastián, has been found guilty of theft and illegally on-selling wines ordered for the restaurant in which he worked. Cruz, who was sommellier and manager at the top hotel from 2012 to 2019, was handed a two-year prison sentence earlier this week and ordered to pay more than €22,000 ($24,000) in compensation to his former employer.
Cruz, whose CV includes a stint at famed Catalan restaurant El Bulli, and a judge’s position at the Decanter World Wine Awards wine competition, claimed he had acquired the wines through the restaurant – a perk of his position – and that his on-selling of wines was known by his employers (see also “Top Spanish sommelier accused of wine theft” in Wine Blogger Fined for Sexist Post).
As the trial got under way earlier this year, the sommelier claimed that all was well with Mugaritz boss Andoni Luis Aduriz and that his actions were approved of by the latter. Cruz said the relationship soured prior to his being sacked, with Cruz also claiming wrongful dismissal.
However, the court found that Cruz had not produced suffucient evidence to prove the wines he on-sold were in fact his, and not his employer’s. Given the high value of the bottles of wine in question (unsubstantiated rumours point to the likes of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti although none of the wines involved have been made public), the court also did not accept Cruz’s statement that the wines were on-sold with the full knowledge, acceptance and consent of the establishment.
According to Spanish news agency EFE, the lack of witnesses to substantiate Cruz’s claims further undermined his case.
However, the ruling did state that the existence of Cruz’s personal “niche” of wines in the restaurant cellars and a lack of invoices on the part of Mugaritz restaurant did indicate that Cruz’s claims were not “absurd […] illogical or completely rejected”.
It is not known at this stage whether Cruz will appeal the ruling in the Basque Higher Court (TSJPV).
EU anti-pesticide proposals strike fear into wine sector
Proposals to reduce pesticide use across the European Union have struck fear into representatives of the wine sector in numerous member states with many decrying the likely drop in yields associated with the move. Wine industry representatives in France and Spain reacted negatively to a European Commission (EC) report, published on Wednesday, giving an impact assessment on proposals to, among other potential measures, reduce pesticide and phytosanitary product use by 50 percent by 2030.
According to Vitisphere.com, French vineyards would be most impacted, where the “loss of yield would be 28 percent (there would be a reduction of around 20 percent in Italy and 15 percent [other outlets cited 18 percent] in Spain)”.
Other news reports have stated that Brussels is unfazed by the impact on potential vineyard yields as the EU does not consider wine production an essential part of the agricultural picture.
“The EC also argues that grapes, and therefore wine, are not an essential crop for European food security, according to the EFOW,” said Spanish agricultural news website, Agroclm.com.
The EFOW, or European Federation of Origin Wines, represents the numerous appellations bodies across EU member states. It, along with the Assembly of European Wine Regions (AREV), the European Confederation of Independent Winegrowers (CEVI), the Committee of Professional Agricultural Organizations of the Union (Copa) and the General Committee for Agricultural Cooperation of the European Union (Cogeca) co-signed a press release on Thursday, condemning the proposals which also include widening non-spray zones.
“The European Commission’s legislative proposal is unrealistic for viticulture, except to call into question the future of the [wine] sector in the European Union,” the organisations said, adding that the poposals “suggest a total lack of consideration for what European viticulture represents (in terms of economic contribution to exports, social impact on the regions and cultural weight in the European identity)”.
Furthermore, they added, “these alarming figures do not take into account the impact of climatic hazards (hail, frost, drought, etc.) which regularly have repercussions on European viticulture”.
While the study indeed admitted that the most significant impacts on yield would be felt by “crops that have limited relevance for food and feed security, such as grapes, hops and tomatoes” the study pointed that the potential yield impacts quoted “should be seen as an upper limit due to several factors that are not considered in these studies”.
Not enough to placate the EU wine bodies which pointed out that “despite decades of research and experimentation, there are still no effective responses to cryptogamic diseases such as mildew and powdery mildew” adding that the “vine has no natural resistance to these diseases and, in a year of high pressure, 100 percent of the grapes can be lost in a few days without the use of inputs”.
Voting across EU bodies on the proposed phytosanitary reduction measures begins this month, with a vote in the plenary session of the EU scheduled for October.
World’s smallest wine glass made in Sweden
Boffins in Sweden have managed to create the world’s smallest wine glass via a special 3-D printing technique developed at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Scientists at the Institute used a special process to create the glass (which appears more in the form of an elongated goblet) via targeted laser pulses directed at a tiny pool of hydrogen silsesquioxane (HSQ).
This forms the HSQ into shapes.
“[The] team also created mini models of a spiral, cantilever, an array of needles, an optical resonator, and the logo of the university behind the project,” said online science website New Atlas.
The project formed part of a study, called “Three-dimensional printing of silica glass with sub-micrometer resolution”, published in the journal Nature Communications.
The wine glass itself stands over 15 micrometers tall by roughly six micrometers wide – narrower than a human hair. The glass can only be seen through an electron microscope – perfect for increasing margins on by-the-glass pours in culinary establishments.
Valencian wine veteran dies
The third-generation former boss of major Valencian winery Bodegas Vicente Gandía, José María Gandía Perales died on Thursday aged 82. Gandía, who headed the family company for over five decades, was roundly praised in the local and national press for his contribution to wine production in his native Valencia and to its increased profile in export markets.
He is widely credited with being the driving force behind establishing the region’s first bottling line in 1971. He also launched Vicente Gandía’s Castillo de Liria, Hoya de Cadenas and Ceremonia brands.
Gandía was succeeded as head of the winery by his son, Javier Gandía de Cecilio, in 2015.
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