Winemaker receives support for sex allegations
Allegations of sexual harassment against a French winemaker have prompted some of his peers to come to his defense.
© Alexis T. Schwartz
| The prominent Loire winemaker has had his wines removed from the list of some stores due to allegations of inappropriate behavior.
A group of wine producers, many of them prominent in the natural wine scene, have written an open letter denouncing cancel culture following allegations of sexual assault and the delisting of wines from Sancerre producer Sébastien Riffault in restaurants and importers in Denmark.
Acting against a “lynching on social media”, the group, which calls itself “supportasebastienriffault” (support for Sébastien Riffault), posted the letter on Instagram last weekend. The group notably includes Claire and Olivier Cousin, Joan Ramon Escoda, Anthony Tortul, Alexandre Bain, Catherine and Gilles Vergé and Louis-Anoine Luyt.
The open letter says that earlier this year, Riffault was “targeted” by a Danish Instagrammer posting anonymous accounts of harassment and bullying in the Copenhagen restaurant scene. “A few days later, continues the letter, a Danish blog publishes a defamatory article, relating several cases of sexual harassment [the original word is “viols” or rapes] and again carefully omitting to name [the accused].”
He goes on to say that as a result of the article, Riffault’s importer and a well-known restaurant in Copenhagen removed his wines from their lists. Since then, he adds, several importers have also stopped taking Riffault wines although “some have since backtracked”.
“All blogs and magazines, having published this information, have scrupulously omitted to mention his name,” the letter reads. “To date, not a single complaint has been filed against him. A story on the internet is not worth an accusation, let alone a conviction. Defamation is, in itself, a crime (article 29 of the CP [Civil Code] of July 29, 1881). Worse, it can lead to irreparable consequences on someone’s personal and professional life. Their family, their friends, their business can also be unfairly impacted.
Citing Article 11 of the Human Rights Bill, which holds that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial, the letter ended by saying “[we] So I believe that it is not up to social networks to do justice, to accuse someone, to judge that person and to condemn them without proof”.
However, by the same token, this correspondent is not aware of any defamation case purchased by Riffault. Indeed, by linking Riffault to the anonymous allegations, the letter of support itself is potentially defamatory.
The restaurant blues
Copenhagen’s Michelin-starred restaurant Noma, however, confirmed to Wine-Searcher that Riffault’s wines have indeed been removed from its wine list.
“We have also been following up on the allegations about the winemaker and it saddens us deeply,” said Noma communications manager Arve Podsada Krognes. “As this matter has not been legally resolved, we are unable to comment further on this specific case.”
Meanwhile, the accusations against Riffault continue to surface, with many also highlighting larger systemic issues within the wine and hospitality community and his approach to harassment. In a post dated March 1, 2022, luamorenalua recounted how a winemaker (“the same one that was reported”) had “crossed the line with me.”
She then made allegations of unwanted touching by Riffault. “The next day I commented with the people I was with and they said they had seen it, but ‘it’s like that, there’s nothing to do’. After a few months, the same winemaker came to Malmö and after showing my frustration about having him with me I was told ‘no matter what he has done, he is an amazing winemaker and it’s important to have his wines’.”
Riffault has so far not responded to attempts to speak to him about the matter, although this correspondent understands he has spoken to some importers about it, denying the accusations. He did not respond to Wine-Searcher’s repeated requests for comment.
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