Producer wine
Valentina Passalacqua

COUNTRY :
Italy

REGION :
Puglia

PRODUCTION :

A few weeks ago, some news came out about the father of Valentina Passalacqua. He had been arrested and charged with underpaying over 200 laborers largely from West African countries and Albania. The charges also included some Italian-born laborers. This type of labor discrimination has multigenerational effects. In limiting the income of a particular worker, their children and families will inevitably experience deficiencies in education, health care, and overall quality of life. We have seen throughout history how this effect suppresses groups of people for generations. As a small business owner, I can make decisions about where we spend our money, and I have no intentions of supporting any entity which acts in this way.

It’s very important to say that, as far as I can tell from the US, Valentina herself has paid her employees fairly since the founding of her winery. She has done some incredible things in her region, including farming biodynamically in an area in which industrial farming is a well-established standard. Moreover, the very fact that she is a woman represents great progress in the agricultural landscape of the region, which is extremely patriarchal; and Valentina has struggled considerably to overcome these barriers in the founding of her natural wine estate. I have enormous respect for what she’s accomplished and for what I am sure she will continue to accomplish.

All that said, ZRS will no longer be importing and selling the wines of Valentina Passalacqua. I do not have any evidence that Valentina has done anything wrong, and she has, in fact, worked to be transparent. However, I do not feel that we yet share a similar approach in how to address the chronic exploitation of workers.

I know that to some degree, many wineries around the world face similar problems. But I think it is time that we reflect on our pasts and how we got to where we are. While I didn’t receive any money from my family to start ZRS, the fact that I am a white male has allowed me to move through both the world and the wine world in ways which women, as well as the entire BIPOC community, have not been afforded. We all need to reckon with our own origin stories and look for ways to make amends and create some kind of justice.

To this end, we at ZRS are developing a “working contract.” It will address issues such as sexist behavior, racist behavior, labor rights, and responsible stewardship of the land we farm. All of our producers will be required to sign it going forward. This may not be a cure-all, but it will state the standards which we and all of our partners must strive for, and will create a clear blueprint by which we can deal with future challenges and disputes.

It is not my intention to condemn Valentina or anyone who wishes to continue to sell her wines, and I don’t think that she nor her spectacular project should be dropped from the world of wine. But we at ZRS need to do what we think is right in order to ensure that our ethics are being represented throughout our portfolio.

We will leave this statement here for a week or so, and then we will take it down.

Addendum: 

Hello,The last week has been a polarizing one in our corner of the wine industry. As you may have read in the statement above, we have decided to drop the Valentina Passalacqua winery from our portfolio. The tangential lines to large scale labor abuse raise too many questions.

One of most important words of our time is accountability. As a wine importer, it should be my responsibility to know where the labor rights abuses in agriculture are most prevalent. The association between one of the wealthiest families in the region and their very large agricultural practice should have been questioned. Following the proper research, I would have been well aware of the state of labor politics in Puglia, and thus suspicious of an agricultural firm the size of Settimio Passalacqua’s, Valentina’s father. There’s a responsibility to due diligence in picking up a winery, which I did not follow in this case. I will commit to a more conscious and responsible process going forward and will take a close look at the rest of our portfolio, by both asking pointed questions and developing a working contract which I addressed in my prior statement.

The wholesale side of the wine business is extremely inventory-intensive. When one works with a winery on the scale of this estate, one must warehouse and continually move large amounts of inventory. A few days before this news came out, we paid for and picked up a container of wine from Passalacqua. We received it a few days before making the decision to stop importing the wines, which puts us in the somewhat awkward position of having a large amount of wine with connections we view to be too close to structural inequity.

We’ve considered a few options with regards to what to do with the inventory, ultimately deciding to donate 100% of the profits with the intent of sending that money to the people most touched by this. From what I can tell, it’s not feasible to just hand a check to the people impoverished by these labor practices. However, there are organizations devoted to championing the rights of these workers, and we are researching which ones may be most effective. I’m heartened to tell you that our entire sales team has offered to donate their commissions to the donation pool as well. SRS, our sister company in California has also committed to solidarity on this measure.

If you are a ZRS client who has worked with these wines, I totally understand if you don’t want to sell these wines anymore. However, if you’ve sold the wines in the past and would like to sell them for a little bit longer, you could join us in committing a portion of your profits to these funds. The power of the exponential curve of multiple markups can be leveraged to make a sizable contribution to change this culture of labor abuse. We will post our receipts when we make the donations.

Below are a handful of organizations we are researching and considering. If anyone has first hand knowledge of these or suggestions for another way we can use the capital for the better, your insights are most welcome.

Cordially,
Zev

CUVÉES