food / travel

When Red Is Green, Bordeaux Winemakers Bet On Environment

At work in a Bordeaux vineyard
At work in a Bordeaux vineyard
Rémi Barroux

MARCILLAC — From the edge of the vineyard, one can see a small wooden hosting shed for honeybees and other insects with translucent wings. The vegetation along the ground is dense with phacelia, rumex and crimson clovers to nurture biodiversity. Here in the French department of Gironde, more and more producers in and around the heart of Bordeaux winemaking country are betting green.

Behind this new commitment to reducing climate change and to nurture new environmentally friendly production is the Vignerons de Tutiac (Tutiac Winemakers), a cooperative comprising some 500 producers of Bordeaux, Côtes de Bourg and Blaye labels.

On this vineyard near the town of Marcillac, the use of green compost reduces the amount of chemical additives, as the vegetation absorbs nitrogen from the air and returns it to the ground, all of which helps reduce erosion and the leaching of soil.

The winegrowers have also planted four kilometers of hedgerows along the lots to protect rivers and other risk areas from pesticide contamination. "We're trying new practices to fight climate change, and we're also trying to reduce our environmental footprint," says Sarah Como, the cooperative's wine technician. Member winegrowers have committed to a policy agenda that touches on such concerns as water consumption, waste production, additives, monitoring and proximity to urban areas.

The Tutiac efforts, indeed, are part of a bigger movement. Having monitored the work at the vineyards for eight years, the Interprofessional Committee of Bordeaux Wine (CIVB) recently presented its 2015 sustainability report.

The issues are important for the flagship vineyards of French wine production. After all, some 700 million bottles of Bordeaux are produced in a typical vintage. The 6,600 Bordeaux producers don't just have to prepare for a warmer future, which includes researching new types of grapes more resistant to disease and drought, but they also want to fight climate change by reducing their carbon emissions.

Start with the bottles

"We must preserve our soils and typicality of Bordeaux wines, reduce our environmental footprint and preserve biodiversity," says Bernard Farges, president of the CIVB.

One immediate attempt to reduce carbon emissions has focused on the materials and weight of the traditional bottle. The producers have managed to reduce the weight by more than 20%, from 550 grams to 450 grams. "This is the first step in reducing greenhouse gases," says Fabien Bova, CEO of the CIVB.

Philippe Guignan, another producer, says they also work on greener packaging, labels and corks, though this evolution hasn't been easy as a strong customer preference for the traditional bottles and packaging.

An environmental management system was launched in 2010 that 400 companies have embraced. The results are dramatic: Between 2008 and 2013, the sector of Bordeaux wines reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 9%, and in 2015, 45% of vineyards were engaged in certification processes for organic and environmentally friendly labels.

Dominique Forget, director of Château Couhins in the Pessac-Leognan area, sees the evolution clearly. Working with the National Institute for Agricultural Research, Forget carried out experiments on new viticultural and oenological techniques â€" such as composting of organic residues â€" and also anti-parasite techniques. "We know that with global warming we will have to change," he says.

But even if vineyards have begun to change, several problems remain, including the important issue of chemical additives and their coexistence with locals. Marie Gordian, of the Organization and Management Department of Côtes de Bourg, says major awareness was raised in 2014 after the illnesses of 23 children and their teacher when fungicide was used to spray areas close to their school. "After this event, we diagnosed 35 other sensitive sites such as schools, retirement homes and sports grounds," Gordian says.

Valérie Murat, whose winemaker father in Gironde died in 2012 from cancer, filed a complaint last year and doesn't share the sector's optimism. "Everything is not as well as they suggest," she says. "Agricultural workers and winemakers get sick and die, and the CIVB plays along with the chemical industry."

The CIVB president replies that the group is committed to limit additives. "We must organize the sharing of the territory and live together â€" winemakers, villagers, consumers, local authorities, associations," Farges says.

François Despagne, owner of Château Grand Corbin Despagne, a wine from the Saint Emilion appelation, agrees. A seventh-generation wine producer, he went organic in 2004. "But it's complicated," he says. "I can't sleep. I watch the weather five times a day, because there is no room for error."

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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