I'm not big on predictions, but I'm going to go out on a limb here: As cachaça becomes more popular in the U.S. and Europe, it's going to acquire (and deserve!) the scrutiny that many socially conscious people today apply to coffee.
In the coffee world, you hear a lot about "Fair Trade". The concept, also applied to a great many other commodities, is pretty simple — price transparency, fair prices for the farmers, good working conditions, and environmental sensitivity.
This LA Times article posits that Brazil's ethanol-fueled march toward energy independence was carried on the backs of slave or otherwise exploited labor in the sugarcane fields. "Biofuels may help reduce humanity's carbon footprint," writer Patrick J. McDonnell says, "but the social footprint is substantial."
The question of what this means for our favorite distilled spirit is obvious.
I recently reviewed an organic cachaça that had a German certification on the bottle, attesting to its... ummm... "organic-ness". (Now that I look again, the label depicts strangely uniformed laborers as well.) Is it too much of a stretch to say that labor-conscious drinkers may demand a similar stamp for a distillery's attention to the principles of Fair Trade?
Mãe de Ouro appears to be one cachaça maker who takes this idea seriously. From their Web site:
Our farming methods are a model of sustainable agriculture. Today in Brazil millions of acres of sugar cane are burned each year because it enables rapid harvesting for cachaça production. While it is more labor intensive to harvest unburned sugarcane, we have chosen not to burn our crops or use machines to harvest the cane. Burning sugar cane pollutes the environment and it would also destroy the natural yeasts that give our cachaça its unique flavor.
Here's another example from Verde Amarela (excerpted and with some translation assistance):
All of the coming by-products of its process of production are taken advantage of in other activities inside of the farm.
The vinhoto (a by-product highly pollutant in rivers and lakes) is transformed into fertilizer and used in the fertilizing of the sugar cane plantation.
The pulp is used as a source of energy for the copper stills and as animal feed.
The discard of the ferment is transformed into chicken and pig feed.
The so-called BRIC countries (of which Brazil is the "B" along with "Russia", "India", and "China") are receiving increased attention as potential economic epicenters between now and 2050. Increased popularity for cachaça, and the brighter spotlight of international attention on Brazil, will likely make human rights a consumer purchase variable when selecting a cachaça in the years to come.