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Our vineyards - how do they operate?


A journalist recently spoke to a woman who had worked in the vineyards of Entre-deux-mer, trimming the vines to top up her pension. She’d heard that the rate for casual work was €10 an hour. In fact it was piecework at four cents a vine. She left after six hours with €15 in her pocket. As WS members we should make sure our buyers don’t trade with vineyards like this.


Not enough info…

Was the woman French, or if not did she have a French Work Permit. If so then entitled to French minimum pay that she’d ‘heard of’.

If so then why did she not report it to the appropriate authorities?

How come she took on a job without knowing how much the employers was paying?

I’m not clear how TWS buyers supposed to find out how much casual labourers in the vineyard are paid…

“Excuse me Monsieur Wine Seller, before I place this order for 1,000 cases of your wine, please tell me how much your casual vineyard workers are paid.”

“Oui Monsieur Buyer, none of our workers are paid less than the legal minimum”


“Ah, Monsieur Buyer, we exploit our workers by piece work and thus pay a mere pittance”


Admittedly quite a few years ago, but I worked on the harvest in several vineyards - in Beaujolais, near Castillon, and in Cognac. I/we were always paid the smic (statutory minimum wage) with some adjustment for board; even slightly more money for certain tasks in fact.


I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a business to ask that sort of question of its suppliers, as part of due diligence. There have been numerous examples of companies in other fields getting bad press for failing to do that.


Companies like importing clothes from the Indian sub continent and the supplier paying peanuts. I agree That the WS should establish if the company s they are are buying from are paying their works fairly and according to the laws of the countrys


I not only think it’s incumbent on an ethical organisation to trade with responsible producers but I doubt it’s even hard to find out in many countries especially in Europe what rates of pay are. I imagine France will have similar disclosure responsibilities to the UK.


Where there’s a will there’s a way. The wine industry is perfectly capable of enforcing strict and detailed methods of production for protected classifications of wine as well as for organic or biodynamic production. In the same way, fair working practices can easily be established and certified if the industry wants to do it, which in practice means when the consumer wants it. So yes for the WS to make this a priority issue would be a great start I think.


It shouldn’t be difficult to find out how much casual staff are paid, or at least if they
adhere to the minimum wage policy, especially in France where TWS often buy direct from the vineyard or use agents who they’ve dealt with for decades. This sort of thing is very common in the direct trade of speciality coffee. Admittedly, I’d imagine it’s much more of an issue in Africa and South America.

I’d have thought though it would be very difficult to be sure with any wine like The French Full Red for example, where the wine is sourced from a co-op.


Just curious, but how easy exactly?

As per my post above, is a winery (i.e. the employer) going to admit they are breaking the law?

Or are TWS supposed to quiz casual staff on what they are paid? To visit in the field at harvest time, identify casuals among full timers and quiz them? Access the winery, identify casuals among the winery workers and quiz them? For every winery TWS deals with

TWS policy * is stated as

We do, of course, trade with a wide range of different producers, suppliers and carriers, most outside the UK. We always try and ensure that all of these are reputable and carry on business to the same high standard as we do ourselves. We actively encourage them to do so. Our relationships, particularly with producers, often go back many, many years. We are in regular contact with them.

We have an informal programme of regular contact with suppliers, producers and trading partners and for the most significant of these we intend to assess the degree of risk in trading with each of them and conduct more formal audits as appropriate.

Seems to me this, and the law enforcement bodies in the countries TWS does business in, is sufficient.



I was just checking to see if this topic was posted on April 1st. It has the hallmarks of an unfounded piece of internet “news” getting out of hand.
“A journalist” spoke to “a woman” who presumably worked in “a vineyard” … And the result is TWS should review all its suppliers and their business practices. It all seems rather disproportionate. Perhaps some more concrete evidence of malpractice is needed. Otherwise it seems a Trump-like over-reaction.


I’d agree with you if indeed that was what was said, but I think that this may be a slight over-reaction itself. @Normeric made a point about an article they’ve read that suggested that some vineyard employment practices are unfair. @peterm made some valid points (as do you), that this seems rather unsourced and unsubstantiated, but went on to suggest that it was unreasonable or impossible for a business to obtain information about ethical behaviour from their suppliers. I disagreed with the latter point, as did others. So far, so normal discussion, and then @peterm has dug out the Wine Society policy, which suggests that indeed, TWS does formal audits where necessary. Hardly Trump-like. And not an exclamation mark in sight.


Yes, I exaggerated!


My source of information was an article by Jeremy Harding, ‘Among the Gilets Jaunes’ in the London Review of Books, 21 March, 2019.


The article is online at https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n06/jeremy-harding/among-the-gilets-jaunes

you must give an email address to read it all.

The text is as @Normeric put in his post.


It is relatively easy to “police” viticultural working practices for estate producers, but a lot more difficult for winemakers that buy-in grapes from family holdings.

Consider the price of Port, and the steep slopes that are worked to produce the grapes. How is it possible? Apparently a lot of grapes are bought from families with other jobs, and they work the vineyards to top up their income, asking/getting very little for the work they put in. (In some ways similar to the story that started this thread.) But what should be done about it? We risk destroying livelihoods and culture if we are not careful. I don’t think there are easy answers.


Thanks to all who have contributed to this discussion. I shall now ask TWS management for their view of the matter.