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Wine joins the 2020 debate over privilege and justice, Food & Drink

IN this topsy-turvy year of the Covid-19 pandemic and a national uproar over politics and racial injustice, few things are immune from the widespread cultural re-evaluation.

The wine world, too, is re-examining its business practices and responsibilities. In recent weeks, the focus has turned to the case of Valentina Passalacqua – a natural-wine producer in Puglia, the region at the heel of Italy’s boot – whom few Americans had ever heard of until recently.

Over the past year, though, she drew a meteoric rise in attention as her products were picked up by two of New York’s most important importers of natural wines, Zev Rovine Selections and Jenny & Fran├žois Selections. Her wines were also featured by Dry Farm Wines, a natural-wine club that ships to 44 states, promising bottles that “whisper in nature’s perfect logic and design”.

But her upward trajectory as a natural-wine exemplar took a swift nosedive in early July when her father, Settimio Passalacqua, a marble and agriculture magnate in Puglia, was placed under house arrest by the carabinieri, the national police. Prosecutors accused him of the systematic and illegal exploitation of migrant workers in his produce operation.

The Italian authorities have not suggested that Passalacqua was complicit in the crimes they say her father committed. But over the last month, many people in natural-wine circles, using the social justice language of 2020, turned on her, questioning both whether she was operating separately…

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