Marc Sibard GUILTY of sexual assaults and harassment!

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Marc Sibard, manager of the reputed Caves Augé shop in Paris, has been found guilty of multiple counts of sexual assault and sexual harassment and psychological harassment.

Always at the top of any list of ‘influential people in the wine industry,’ Marc Sibard has been one of the most powerful advocates for natural wine in France.

He has been at the head of the inimitable Caves Augé for over 30 years* and, in that time, has inspired, shaped and influenced a whole generation of consumers, sommeliers, winemakers but also, his employees.


* Edited to add: On Monday 10th July, I heard whispers through the grapevine that Marc Sibard may no longer be employed at the Caves Augé… but these are not (yet) confirmed.


An article on Marc Sibard in la Revue du Vin de France last month. The headline photo also comes from that same RVF article.

Enough was enough for several of those employees who went to the police and made accusations against him.

After close to five years of investigations, the case was heard at the High Court in Paris (Tribunal de Grande Instance) on 9th June 2017.

I was one of the plaintiffs. I worked at the Caves Augé and for the Lavinia group in 2011-12.

In my case, the charges were for two counts of sexual assault and for sexual harassment.

There are other two former employees, who also filed as “partie civile” and for them: further counts of sexual assault, sexual harassment and psychological harassment.

Four other female employees had told, during the investigations, of similar problems they had had with him – which either had been settled out of court or brushed under the carpet.


Today, July 6 2017, we found out that Marc Sibard has been found guilty on all counts; guilty of sexual assault, guilty of sexual harassment and guilty of psychological harassment.

He now has a suspended prison sentence, has to stay off booze for two years and will have a criminal record… but do you know what, right now, the details haven’t sunken in. All my brain can process is that he has been found guilty, that the case is finally over and, thank God, it went in our favour.


If you missed it, this was my (rather cryptic) blog post last month, musing about justice – here.

How Do You Get Justice

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I’ve been very quiet on the blog because it’s been a hard couple of months for me.

I was back in Paris a week ago to testify in court against a very well-known figure in the wine industry. Because the verdict will not be pronounced until early July, I cannot make any of the details around the case public.

One of the hardest things about last Friday’s hearing and of the five year procedure as a whole is the gut-wrenching, all-consuming desire for justice to be done.

The hurt you endure when victim of a crime – the tears, the breakdowns, the hopelessness – while no longer raw, is carried around like a shadow that you cannot shift until you have the verdict.

The endless statements at the police station, the questionings. “We’re counting on you to be strong,” an officer said to the teary-eyed, curly-haired ball, crouched on the Haussmannian street, hugging her knees outside the commissariat, during a pause in the confrontation in 2013.

Now that the pain is no longer so acute, the main agony is actually due to the act of putting your faith in an unknown entity. You hope that he will be found guilty and therefore be made to suffer even just a fraction of what you went through. The anguish comes from it being completely out of your control; you don’t know who the judges will be and if they will be in any way understanding to your cause. Has the district attorney (procureur, in French) done enough? At the hearing, you just have a couple of hours to show who you are, convince them as best you can, and then wait to see what the result will be. Everything lies in the balance.

“But what does your boyfriend think about it?” an Italian friend recently asked. “If it were me, mine would have already flown to Paris and bashed the guy’s head in!”

Despite there being as many lawyers in Milano as in the whole of France, the system here seems different. Lawyers trade firmly worded letters as frequently as little yellow balls pass over the net at Wimbledon. Issues are more often solved out of court than in the presence of a judge.

Within the viticultural sector in Italy, the stakes are even higher. The levels of jealousy, revenge and cruelty have shocked me in their ugliness. For having crossed someone, maybe having cut down a tree on a territorial boundary, sold wine to the wrong person or at the wrong price, matters will be taken into their own hands.

In December 2016, a producer in Oltrepo Pavese’s property was broken into and the burglars opened the taps in the cellar, meaning that the equivalent of 400,000 bottles was poured down the gutter.

It’s not just a one off, in 2012, a producer in Montalcino suffered an even larger loss – 60,000 litres of Brunello di Montalcino, which had an estimated worth of 13 million euros.

I’ve spoken to a producer in Alto-Adige who was in the middle of harvest. He left his harvested grapes in a trailer in one side of the field while he went to pick the grapes on the other side… and during that small window of time, another person came up and poured petrol into the trailer-load of freshly picked grapes!

It’s not unheard of for another farmer to come with a chainsaw in the middle of the night and destroy part of your vineyard, just over a small debate. Valuable cars have gone missing in Valipolicella in what the police believe is an inside job.

Now, I know that militant groups in the south of France have done similar acts… but in the years I lived in France, I didn’t ever hear of it being so widespread as the stories I’m hearing now I’m in Italy, or if it were, it was for commercial gain rather than pure malevolence.

Is Italy alone in this or are there other countries and wine-making regions in which this is an issue?


P.S. This piece is no way intended to be an incitement to violence – I hope that is clear and will not be used against me in any future legal proceedings. It is just a reflection on contemporary society and cultural differences.

#YoungtoYoung17: The Next Generation Will Be Female!

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I was expecting to see ​Francesca Binacchi, from Poggio al Mandorlo at Young to Young this year but she had unfortunately been taken ill.

As it happens, I met her father instead and a very interesting discussion ensued….

He and his wife set up a winery in 2001. Originally from Lombardy, they fell in love with this area of Tuscany, 12 kilometres from Montalcino, near the Val d’Orcia, on the extinct volcano Amiata.


Their local denominazione is that of “Montecucco” and if you don’t know of it yet, you ought to! I often find the sangiovese of Chianti difficult to digest – the tannins and wood barrels tough and chewy bedfellows. Montecucco’s expression of Sangiovese is that of freshness, elegance and very integrated tannins. 
Anyway, back to Francesca. She’s 20 years old and studying sciences at university. Passionate about wine and oenology, and importantly, the only daughter, she looks likely to inherit the winery when her parents retire.

What I particularly liked, talking to her parents, was their conviction that a girl has the potential to take over a winery. It is far too common for a son to be the ‘chosen’ one to manage the estate – especially in such a traditional country as Italy. 

The right to be taken as seriously as a man is something I myself fight for all the time. 

They very much hope that Francesca will take forward their work.

The Poggio al Mandorlo have 12 hectares of vineyards from which they make 40,000 – 50,000 bottles per year. (To put this into perspective, it’s a very small winery for the area.) Half of their production is what they call “territory wines” – i.e. made with sangiovese grapes; the other half are international blends of merlot and cab sauv. 

We tried Le Querce 2011. It was a very interesting wine. Wonderful red garnet colour, an enchanting nose of redcurrant jelly and wild herbs. The beautifully balanced mouth, remarkably fresh is full of prunes and pomegranates. The acidity is very typical of sangiovese with rounded tannins and an impressive salinity at the end, hailing from the mineral soils of the extinct volcano.   

As I mentioned before, sangiovese is not my variety of predilection but this particular expression I liked very much. I look forward to following Francesca’s progress over the coming years.

Poggio al Mandorlo, Montecucco, Tuscany

Tasted at Young to Young 2017, during Vinitaly.

#YoungtoYoung17: Spotlight on Sustainability

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The memorable discovery of this year’s Young to Young session (during Vinitaly) was ​Alessandra Quarta, a young producer in the boot of Italy: Puglia. 
She is twenty-something daughter of a successful winemaking family (who make approx 400,000 bottles per year.) Yet, in this post – for once! – I’m not going to talk about the wine but more about the vision. 

Under the auspices of the Cantina Moros near Lecce, Alessandra has her own line: “Qu.ale.” 

“Quale” in Italian means “which” and apparently the name was partially inspired by her initials but mainly from the set of questions that she was asking herself when starting up this business. 
Which bottle to choose? Which wine? Also deeper, more meaningful questions such as “in what kind of world do I want to live?”

Accordingly, her Salento Rosso IGP wine, named “Qu.ale”, is a sustainable, ecologically and sociologically conscious wine. 

Ecologocial because the weight of the bottle is as light as possible. Packaging is kept to a minimum, but what there is is all recycable and eco-friendly. Other materials (corks, labels etc.) are sourced responsibly. 

Sociological because 5% of the sales go to a charity and on the website qualevino.it you can choose the beneficiary. Children’s health, protecting the environment, access to clean water or social inclusion are some of the possibilities….

Not only that… but Alessandra has put together a “Manifesto per una Democrazione del Vino” which includes lines such as: 

  • Everyone is a citizen and they deserve to drink well and in a healthy way.
  • Quality of wine is closely and fundamentally related to the quality of life. 
  • Everyone should be able to drink good wine at an affordable price.
  • We should use eco-packaging and encourage recycling.  
  • Every one of us should look after planet Earth and those who live on it.  
  • You help humanity every time you drink a glass of red wine!

30,000 bottles of Qu.ale are made every year. I’m certainly going to keep a look out for it and do my part in supporting the community of upcoming, sustainble, conscientious winemakers.  

http://www.qualevino.it/en/join-the-wine-democracy/

Getting Ready for Vinitaly and the Natural Wine Tastings 2017

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Sometime in early April every year, the city of Verona and the surrounding areas come alive for one week.

You see, it’s our annual appointment with Vinitaly, the largest wine exhibition in the world… and exclusively dedicated to Italian wines.

As I sit here, in my rural ‘office’, a helicopter has just flown by heading towards the city of Romeo and Juilet and reminded me of the frentic energy that always accompanies this event. (9 – 12th April, 9.30am – 6pm.)

Photo: Paola Giagulli

Photo: Paola Giagulli (April 2016)

If you are in the wine industry and looking for the classic trade show experience, you can amuse yourself for at least a couple of days amongst the dozen pavillons and the countless stands. You’ll find all the regions of Italy represented from Alto-Adige and Basilicata to Umbria and the Veneto.

As evening entertainment, you have various events organised under the umbrella of “Vinitaly and the City“.

 

To be honest though, I have only once managed to get into central Verona and participate in the Vinitaly and the City events.

My days look more like this:
– 7.30am: I hit the road. Parking around the Expo is always a nightmare and traffic is often at a standstill. If I leave early enough, I will miss the worst of it.
– 9am: The fair is not yet open, but there is a café by the entrance where I’ll have a cappuccino with a fellow sommelier.
– For the best part of the day, I’ll be juggling between giving a helping hand to the winemakers with whom I work whilst also tasting wines for my own pleasure. You may remember from previous years (2015 (1 and 2) and 2016 (1 and 2)) that I have enjoyed the Young To Young tastings.
– I try to leave the Fair before the main rush so normally I’ll get to the restaurant for dinner with a few minutes to spare. There’s nothing like a cold beer after a whole day of wine tastings!
– I’ll have dinner just outside Verona with one of my winemakers and his importers… until about 10.30pm, when it’s time for me to gate-crash another dinner with another winemaker!
– Needless to say, by 1am, I’m ready for my bed!

If, like me, you’re into organic, low-intervention wine, you should not miss out on the unofficial parallel tastings.

The VinNatur Association are hosting 170 natural wine producers from 9 countries in a stunning location (see featured photo) closer to Vicenza called “Villa Favorita.” (8, 9, 10th April 2017, 10am – 6pm.)

A little further south of Verona, in the town of Cerea, Vini Veri hold a smaller tasting – of approximately 100 producers. (7, 8, 9th April, 10am – 6pm.)

In 2016, a third parallel tasting popped up, organised by Meteri. They cleverly decided to shake up the programme by scheduling their event in the late afternoon and evening. 40 winemakers at “Notturno.” (9, 10th April, 4pm – 1am.)

By now, you’ll probably understand why I described the “Vinitaly week” as frenetic! Repeat my schedule for a full five days and you’ll understand why they call this work!

Backstage at the Soavino Wine Tasting

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Earlier this week, Soavino held their annual tasting at the Villa Gritti, near Soave. Not having a restaurant, wine bar or off-licence, I shouldn’t really have been allowed in but I am a regular client of their enoteca (also near Soave) and I also happen to be friends with several of the exhibiting winemakers who put me on the guest list.

In the wine world, we sometimes get so caught up in tasting notes and comparing vintages that we forget about what is happening backstage, on a human level….

mel_danielaChampagne’s most recent power couple!

You may remember that I spent the afternoon with Melanie Tarlant at their winery near Épernay last year. Well, there’s news, hot off the press:

She met Daniel Romano quite by chance, while she was presenting her family’s Champagnes at the Villa Favorita tasting in Italy in April 2016. Daniel, an accomplished sommelier specialised in natural wines, stopped by the stand to taste… and Cupid shot them both with his arrow! Daniel moved to France at the end of 2016 in order to be closer to Melanie. Best of luck to both of them!


Going back to basics with Olivier Varichon

olivier_varichona

The quality of the cork closure is fundamentally important for a winemaker. A bad cork can ruin a year’s worth of work in an instant.

We commonly talk about TCA (cork taint) affecting a wine, by making it “corked”, but a bad cork can actually spoil a wine in other ways… turning it bitter, flat or dusty.

When winemakers get together, one of the questions that I hear the most is: where do you get your corks? Amongst old world winemakers, the most highly respected regions are Portugual and Sardinia.

At the Soavino tasting, I got chatting to Olivier from Domaine Vinci, in the Roussillon (south-west France.) He explains that his corks are from the French part of the Basque country and are completely untreated. A cork manufacturer may add wax to fill in the holes and give a more appetising tan colour to the final product. Olivier’s, on the other hand, are distinctly knobbly and have a bleached white colour.


axellea

The talented Axelle Machard de Gramont whose 2014 Nuits-Saint-Georges are showing beautifully.


In case you were wondering what the featured photo was in the header of this blog post…. it was taken during a brief pause on the André Beaufort stand. The Italians love Champagne and André Beaufort’s are one of the biggest sellers at the Soavino shop. Unsurprisingly, they got through a ton of bottles at this tasting.

Many of the Beaufort Brut Champagnes have a fairly high level of added sugar (dosage, in French.) The exact level ranges between 5 and 10 grams/litre.

Having a little extra sugar helps in markets like the USA, Canada and other “newbie” consumers for whom completely bone-dry Champagnes tend to be too sharp.

Réol (pictured below) is the 6th of the eight Beaufort children. He explains that this style of Champagne is very much to his father’s liking, especially because he has found that dosage helps with the ageing process of the wines.

He comes over to talk with us later and reveals that his personal style is rather more towards having a lower dosage, maybe around 2g/l. Obviously, having such a large family – most of whom are in some way involved in the family business – you can’t always get what you want… but, once again, the passing from one generation to the next is not easy.

Réol Beaufort

#WomenDoWine respond to the “Femme de Chef” Awards

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You may or not be aware of my feminist leanings. I try to keep them to a minimum on this blog but, on rare occasions such as this, I can’t contain myself.

I’m part of a recently-formed group called “Women Do Wine” (already 1200 members on Facebook, in under a month) which aims to highlight the bleeding obvious – that women, despite the fact that we don’t have a Y chromosome or much facial hair, are actually capable of working in the wine industry.

The objective of the WdW group is to increase the visibility of women in all aspects of the industry. As I see it, to set an example to others starting out (showing possibilities in different areas, not just sales and marketing) and supporting those who are on their way.

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It is through this group that we learnt of a new French award called Femme de Chef… which translates into English as Wife of a Chef. Yep, you read that correctly.

The feature photo in the header is the cover image for this Award. The qualities they’re looking for are (L-R): give, love, bring, pacify, comfort, accompany, reassure, support, guide, share and serve. Yep, you read that correctly too.

In response to this atrocity of an idea, Women do Wine have penned an open letter to its founder. The original letter can be found here. Below is my hasty translation. Continue reading