French Politicians Wining on the Job | Wine-Searcher News & Features

French Politicians Wining on the Job | Wine-Searcher News & Features

Drunk in charge of a country, vineyard slavery and a much-needed Ukraine victory – it’s all happening this week.

© Assemblée National | The hallowed halls of the French parliament witnessed rather less-august scenes following a recent debate.

While the EU spat over the Irish decision to put health warnings on wine labels continues to make headlines across Europe and beyond, the trial of the couple accused of stealing €1.6 million of upmarket wine from top Spanish hotel Atrio came to a close this week with one of the defendants, Romanian Constantin Gabriel Dumitru, asking “if I am the thief, where are the wines in question?” Wouldn’t we all love to know…?

Meanwhile, in Bordeaux the French government has given the green light to the much-reported vine-pull requests of region (see past Sunday stories).

Meanwhile, here is some of the news you might have missed this week.

French Deputies in drunken antics

News publications across France went to town last week over reports of drunken and booze-based antics in the country’s National Assembly, including accusations (and denials) of deputies vomiting into dustbins and members ordering drinks from 11am.

The initial revelations sprung from a report by political weekly Le Journal du Dimanche last Sunday which ran with the headline “Alcohol in the Assembly: when Deputies get drunk during debates”. The piece opened with the revelation that the bar associated with France’s lower house, dubbed (unsurprisingly) the “buvette”, had run out of bottles, notably Get 27 – a ubiquitous crème de menthe – often taken with a mixer.

Then came the back-and-forth allegations (even more unsurprisingly) between the right and left-wing parties. One politician was seen throwing up in a dustbin, others were ordering beer at 11am and rum by 4pm.

Likely trying to strike a righteous tone, one of Macron’s own centrist Renaissance representatives allegedly saw “a deputy so unwell, they were carried out by buvette staff”. There was non-stop drinking in the buvette and the associated gardens until 3am, said a source.

In their defence, the politicians in the National Assembly have lately been faced with the gargantuan task of reviewing the policies aimed at reforming France’s retirement age – an extremely contentious issue across the country. In the last five years, said the Journal du Dimanche, “alcohol consumption had clearly declined while that of Coke Zero had gone up strongly”.

However, few in the National Assembly could pass up the opportunity to score some low political points.

“We joke that the Insoumis [referring to La France Insoumise – a popular, left-wing party] will be more up for it in the evening because they’ll have stopped in to the watering hole,” said the Renaissance representative.

“That’s part of the anti-LFI [La France Insoumise] rhetoric,” said one of the left-wing coalition members. “It’s a classic tactic to pass off the opposition as drunks. But I see more LR [Les Républicains – right wing, liberal conservative] deputies drinking than their LFI counterparts.”

The same source also highlighted generational differences in the politicians’ drinks of choice.

“Wine for the older ones, more beer and cocktails/spritz for the younger deputies, but not so much strong stuff, like whisky,” they added.

Others were more sanguine, saying “it was worse 25 years ago” and that, over the decades, “I’ve always seen alcohol-related incidents”.

One interviewee blamed the fact that the National Asssembly works nights while another blamed the current, highly pressurized debate. “When you’re shut in for two weeks under a permanent state of stress, it can happen that you go for a drink to relieve the pressure,” said a Renaissance representative.

The last word, though, went to a member of the Green party:

“Whatever you do, don’t close the buvette,” they said. “In a tumultuous debate, it’s a safe space away from political scrapping where we can breathe easy for a while. I like going there to chat with my counterparts in Macron’s party.”

Ukranian wine wins gold

Vinos de la Luz, a global wine brand that produces labels from Ribera del Duero, Tuscany, the Uco Valley, California and, in 2020, a wine from Ukraine, has taken home a gold medal at the Mundus Vini wine competition for the latter.

Vinos de La Luz’s Big Wines Big Art 2020 – a limited edition label of 1000 bottles – was produced from the Odesa Black grape variety (a hybrid produced at the Tairov Institute in Ukraine in 1948 from a crossing of Alicante Bouschet with Cabernet Sauvignon) and made by Italian winemaker Roberto Cipresso. The variety is also known in Slovakia as Alibernet.

Hand picked and aged for a year in French oak barriques, the red wine also boasts a label featuring a work by celebrated Ukranian artist, Ivan Marchuk.

According to Spanish wine news website, the wine is “a tribute to the Ukrainian people and nation, which has heroically resisted the destructive Russian invasion for a year”.

“That is why it was presented in Krakow, Poland, on February 23, at the Archetype of Freedom exhibition, composed entirely of works by Marchuk,” it added.

It is not the first time a Ukranian wine has hit the jackpot at the awards. Last year, the Odesos winery, based in (unsurprisingly) Odessa, took a gold for its 2019 Cabernet (it also claimed silver medals for the Cabernet-Merlot Reserve, the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and the Limited Edition Cabernet-Merlot).

Brazilian vineyard workers freed from slavery

Almost 200 vineyard workers in the Brazilian wine region of Rio Grande do Sul have been rescued from “slavery-like” conditions in the province after three of their number managed to escape and alert the authorities.

According to regional newspaper Jornal do Comércio, the three workers escaped from accommodation in which they were being held against their will and raised the alarm at a local police station. A joint operation between the Department of Labor Inspection (Ministry of Labor)), the Federal Police (PF) and the Federal Highway Police was undertaken in the town of Bento Gonçalves at the end of February.

The 192 workers were found to be living in “unhygienic conditions” in a hostel in the town.

“The workers said they were subjected to exhausting hours, received food that was unfit for consumption and could only buy products in a certain mini-market,” said the newspaper. “Purchases were deducted from the payment received and the amounts charged for products were high. In addition, they were tied to work through alleged debts to the employer.”

The extortion racket was reportedly overseen by a 45 year-old employee of Oliveira e Santana transport and contracting company who was caught “red handed” and later released on bail.

Three wineries – bodegas Aurora, Garibaldi and Salton – tied to the contractor have all denied knowledge of the conditions of the workers in their vineyards and have all released statements condemning the situation.

Charles Heidsieck appoints new Cheffe de Cave

Champagne house Charles Heidsieck this week confirmed it has appointed up-and-coming winemaker Elise Losfelt as their new “cheffe de cave”. Losfelt makes the move from Moët & Chandon, with whom the 36 year-old winemaker has spent the last 10 years.

The announcement falls on the 200th anniversary of Charles Heidsieck and, according to Yves Tesson at French wine blog site Terre et Vins, “rumors [of the move] had been circulating”.

Losfelt, who comes from a winemaking family in the Languedoc (their Château de l’Engarran property has been in the family for six generations and mother Diane Losfelt was named Winemaker of the Year by French wine guide Hachette in 2021), takes over from Heidsieck’s well-regarded cellar master, Cyril Brun.

Brun, who came to Heidsieck from Veuve Clicquot, was in the role for the last seven years and oversaw the release of the house’s top cuvée, Charlie.

“As it was for many, the Covid period was a time of self-reflection and a questioning of my past and future career,” he said. “After 30 years at the heart of distribution and in Champagne houses, I’ve taken the decision to start a new chapter.”

“I have great respect for the creativity and high standards of my predecessors and I want to forge a way that is consistent with the continuity of the house style,” said Losfelt.

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