Mo?t Workers Go on Strike

The tasteful halls of the great Champagne house are ringing with cries of unfairness from workers.
© Mo?t & Chandon | The tasteful halls of the great Champagne house are ringing with cries of unfairness from workers.
Industrial strife, fantastic auctions and vineyard dogs – this week's news round-up has something for everyone.
By Oliver Styles | Posted Sunday, 05-Sep-2021

It has been a curious week for news, with President Biden's approval ratings plummeting, the Queen finding out what her funeral is going to be like and no let-up in hostilities between both sides in the vaccine wars.

It's been a busy wine week, too – the dawn of topless wine, more fire drama in California and the curious case of the water tycoons who turned to wine. Here are some more news items you might have missed.

Related stories:
Moët Alters the Balance in Champagne
German Winemakers' Underwater Escape
Languedoc to Bid Adieu to Appellations?

Mo?t & Chandon workers walk off the job

Several hundred workers went on strike at Moët & Chandon headquarters in Epernay, France, on Wednesay, demanding the so-called "Macron bonus", which LVMH has reportedly declined to pay out to staff.

The bonus, named after the French premier who instituted it in the wake of the "gilets jaunes" protests in late 2018, is a tax-free annual bonus of €1000 ($1190) paid by corporations to employees whose pay is less than three times the minimum wage. Earlier this year, the French government announced its renewal but local union representative Alexandre Rigaud of the CGT (General Worker's Union) told news agency AFP, LVMH and Mo?t & Chandon were not coughing up.

"The management of Mo?t et Chandon and LVMH do not want to pay the Macron bonus this year and employees don't understand that, with LVMH's profits, Mr. [Bernard] Arnault's personal worth and Mo?t & Chandon's turnover, the management doesn't want to pay it as part of a fair distribution of gains with salaried staff," said Rigaud, who said LVMH workers had received the bonus in the two previous years.

Bernard Arnault, who heads up the LVMH group, became the world's richest person this year and is worth an estimated $186 billion. According to Rigaud 250-300 LVMH staff turned out to strike.

The strikers have given LVMH management until the weekend to begin talks with strikes due to resume again on Monday. According to AFP, a spokesperson for the Champagne house said discussions would take place with staff.

World's Best Vineyards hosts Ahr auction

Industry-led tourism initiative World's Best Vineyards is hosting an auction in support of the flood-hit winegrowers of Germany's Ahr region. The auction, set to take place over the weekend of September 17–19, includes a number of exclusive winery experiences and rare wine lots.

Some of the listed lots include:

All proceeds from the charity auction will go to the German Wine Institute's Ahr Flooding Donation Account and the funds will directly benefit the Ahr winegrowers.

"We have been blown away by the generosity of wine producers and companies across the globe who have donated to this extremely worthy cause," said Andrew Reed, managing director of wine and exhibitions at William Reed, which publishes the World's Best Vineyards list. "From once-in-a-lifetime experiences to outstanding, rare wines, this is an event not to be missed.”

Bidders should visit www.worldsbestvineyards2021auction.com to register for the auction.

Buenos Aires implements city's Wine District

Last Thursday, the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires approved the creation of so-called "Wine District" (Distrito del Vino), which is set to host a range of wine-related events. Ranging from tasting rooms, training sessions, wine schools and educational seminars to gastronomic events, wine bars, pop-up cellar doors and even a wine museum, the neighborhood will also play host to a range of producers and groups across Argentina\s various wine regions.

The inititiative, which is down to run until 2035 (14 years) is a public-private partnership between the city and Argentina's wine regions and producers. The aim is to better integrate domestic wine production with the urban population. Buenos Aires is 1500km (930 miles) from Salta, for instance, in the Andean northwest of the country while the wine capital of the country, Mendoza, lies 1,000km (620 miles) due west.

The Wine Neighborhood runs roughly throught the Villa Devoto, Villa del Parque, and small portion of the La Paternal districts in the central northwest of the city. The project joins the similar urban initiatives in Buenos Aires: the Technology District (created in 2008), the Audioviusal District (2011), the Arts District (2012) and the Design District (2013). Each occupies a certain area within the city.

Spat engulfs Languedoc trade body

As most of France returns to work this month, there is no sign of a post-vacation easing of tensions in the offices of the Languedoc wine trade body. As if the terrible growing season the region has had this year wasn't enough, a months-long spat looks set to finish up in court in October. 

And if we haven't reported on it before, it's because – in the tradition of bureaucratic ding-dongs – the situation is a proper soup sandwich.

Like most wine trade bodies, the Conseil Interprofessionel du Vin de Languedoc (or CIVL) looks after, among other things, the marketing and promotion of the region's wines and appellations both at home and in export markets. However, in a situation apparently unique to Languedoc, wine producers who engage in over 50 percent direct marketing (in other words, those who have a minor reliance on the CIVL for promotional activities) are nonetheless given a presence at the CIVL congress through an allocation of 30 percent of the seats at the Collège des Négociants (the Traders' Assembly).

Still with me? Good, because after over 20 years of this modus vivendi, several months ago another group – the UEVM (the Union of Mediterranean Viticultural Businesses) – presented its list of representatives in the Collège des Négociants to the CIVL [presumably this is its remit?]that contained no names from the so-called "Direct Marketers" group. The UEVM took the occaison to point out that these producers are not négociants (traders) and so, really, have no place in the Traders' Assembly.

Cue uproar. Four major wine regions in the CIVL – Corbières, Fitou, Malepère and Faugères – threw their toys out of the pram and threatened to sever their relationship with the interprofessional body over this. More recently, both Corbières and Faugères have indicated they will indeed do so.

Not only would this see the regions go it alone in 2024 (current agreements are due to be renewed before the end of 2023), the move would also mean a significant reduction in financial contributions [these are actually called "Obligatory Volontary Contributions" – yes, you read that correctly – or CVOs in French] to the CIVL.

"The suspension of Obligational Volontary Contributions demanded by the direct marketers and the four rebel unions can only weaken the CIVL's cashflow (already reduced by the departure of Minervois last year and the chaotic marketing compaigns during the health crisis)," wrote vitisphere.com's Alexendre Abellan on Friday in an op-ed piece entitled "Settling scores at the LanguedOK Corral".

All of this blew up in early July, majestically coinciding with the election of Christophe Bousquet (who also heads-up the La Clape winegrowers' body) as the CIVL's new president. "I would have preferred to be elected under more peaceful conditions," he said at the time. Other than stating the obvious, Bousquet has since tried to strike a placatory but stern tone.

His chalice, however, remains as poisoned as a Bulgarian umbrella.

"I don't want to fork out for petrol for a car I'm not getting a ride in," Alain Gleyzes, the head of the Fitou winegrowers' union, told vitisphere.com in August. "I think I'd rather stab a tyre and tip sugar in the tank."

As for the other side: "Honestly, I don't understand it," said UEVM president Gilles Gally – a telling comment, given that he's an insider. Gally maintains that the UEVM's position is in line with all other French wine trade bodies and that, should the affair be found in favor of the direct marketers and the four splinter regions, "we will have to change all of the French interprofessions [trade bodies]".

The Languedoc is famously out-of-step when it comes to pan-regional harmonisation. In 2017, winegrowers there rankled against the appellations system; Fitou itself left the CIVL in 2006 (and returned in 2011); and – as noted by Abellan – the Minervois region (along with the lesser-known Muscat de Frontignan) quit the CIVL last year.

The affair comes up before the Civil Chamber of the Narbonne Courts of Justice on 4 October. 

Davis study finds vineyards can halve irrigation

A study by a team from the University of California Davis has found that irrigation levels can be halved in coastal California areas with no adverse effects on grape flavor, color or sugar levels. Published in the plant science journal Frontiers on Wednesday, the study, which focussed solely on Cabernet Sauvignon, could prove fundamental to grape-growing both in California and abroad.

“In the end, drought is not coming for wine,” lead author Kaan Kurtural said in a release. “There doesn’t need to be a tremendous amount of water for grapes. If you over irrigate in times like these, you’re just going to ruin quality for little gain.”

The research covered two years (the rainy 2019 and drought-affected 2020 seasons) and monitored grapes at a Napa Valley research vineyard in Oakville, planted in 2011. The team focussed on irrigation based on the evapotranspiration of the plants – the amount of water lost by the plant to the atmosphere.

The study covered three levels of water replenishment, or irrigation: 25 percent, 50 percent and 100 percent. It found a 50 percent replacement level was the most beneficial in terms of yield and flavor profile.

It is hoped the study will ecourage a drop in water usage, not least given the water politics in a changing climate. Agricultural water use in California is significant and accounts for around half of the state's total water supply.

Australian wine website launches competition for "Top Dog"

Perhaps in an effort to distract from the ongoing trade spat with China, or simply just to beef-up their profile with a perennial favorite, Australian wine sector employment website, winejobs.com.au, is launching a competition to find the Australian wine industry's "Top Dog". The competition is looking for the winery canine with the best tale of its daily duties at its winery or vineyard.

"We’re on the hunt for a dog who has the best job in your winery or vineyard – from winery mascot to security to pest controller," says the website.

Website visitors will be able to vote on a people's choice category while first prize consists of a front-cover photoshoot for Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine and a year's subscription to the publication. The winner will be announced at the end of November.

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