02-11-2011

Wine’s bitter finish

One of winemaking’s ugly dark sides is how little is paid to the non-winemaker labor. You see it in California wineries with Mexicans, Croatian wineries with Bosnians, and as has been pointed out a bit as of late, white South African wineries with black South Africans. Jancis Robinson talks about this in a recent article wherein a Czech wine merchant took a bold stance:

Bidding is always fierce for the most distinctive lot in the annual Cape Winemakers Guild auction, the giant 18-litre bottle filled with a special blend of the best wines of the most recent vintage produced by members of this elite club of South Africa’s top vintners. At this year’s sale, held three weeks ago in Stellenbosch, the winning bidder, Czech wine merchant Zdenek Lang, declined to take his booty back to Prague. Instead, he declared, he was leaving it with the Guild, to be opened only when the first black winemaker is elected as one of their members.

I suppose that there are some places where people are more fairly treated. For instance in Spain, wages are generally crappy across the board and my brother in-law has worked picking grapes in Catalonia as while it’s hard work, it’s work. There are also others such as Frog’s Leap in Napa where they provide year-round work and health benefits for these typically migrant worker positions.

But it seems that by and large, many wineries just slide on by while, in the US, charging $50+ for a bottle. I don’t really have any solution to this (as it is unjust) other than to frequent those wineries that pay proper wages and to make sure people are aware of this issue. There is a good chunk of Robinson’s article that talks about the dangers of broad perceptions/generlizations as the Cape wineries that are the “bad guys” weren’t named and as such it makes it hard to really take any action other than not buying SA wines, which would be absolutely absurd, not to mention completely counterproductive.