Three Bordeaux winery workers win industrial tribunal case against their Chinese employer

Mardi 07 juillet 2020 par Vitisphere

 3,000 hl of wine, the equivalent of four vintages, are waiting in the cellar alongside 28,000 bottles.
3,000 hl of wine, the equivalent of four vintages, are waiting in the cellar alongside 28,000 bottles. - crédit photo : Château de Pic

On 25 June, the Bordeaux industrial tribunal ruled in favour of three employees of Château de Pic - the tractor driver, the viticulturist and an administrative executive - who had taken their case to court. The three other employees (a Chinese man and a French-Chinese couple) did not consider it useful to refer the matter to the industrial tribunal.

The day before the hearing, on 17 June, the employees had received an e-mail from the chateau’s shareholder, XU group based in Yinchuan in northern China, telling them that the economic situation was not “brilliant” and that the distribution of wines in the hospitality industry in China was suffering. As a result, the tractor driver, the viticulturist and the administrative executive were dismissed. The dismissals didn’t actually materialise. Hélène Pauly, the chateau’s administrative manager, has kept her position: “My daily job involves making suppliers wait for money and renegotiating debt deferrals”, she said. Things are no better in the vineyard. “The vines are completely overrun. They haven’t been pruned. There is no diesel to put in the tractors”, she said.

Everything seemed to get off to a good start. In 2012, Chinese national Shourui Wu, at the helm of a group specialising in real estate, bought the 31-hectare property. Investments quickly followed, including vine pulls on around 25 hectares, new plantings on 18 hectares and renovation of the chateau’s interior. But the biggest project was an underground barrel cellar launched in May 2016. “There was no soil survey, no concrete survey and no inspections by an architect”, commented viticulturist and cellar master Bernard Pitoux. It wasn’t long before one of the newly-built walls started showing defects and by the end of October, the masonry company had withdrawn from the project and left the building site.

In December 2017, a 40-ton block of granite was shipped to the property in a transport container. In Chinese culture it is supposed to bring good luck… In the summer of 2019, the property changed hands and once again came under Chinese ownership, this time the Xu family. Very soon the atmosphere turned sour. “The shareholder gives orders, but there's no long-term plan or management. Since December, there has been no cash flow”, said Pauly. 

 

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