Angry winegrowers break with Bordeaux council

9th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Dozens of disgruntled French winegrowers on Thursday broke away from the powerful Bordeaux wine council to set up a rival body, accusing it of failing to help struggling producers.

The success of Bordeaux's elite brands, fuelled by Asian demand, masks the dire situation of many small winegrowers in the southwest of France, 30 of whom have formed the rival alliance to the Bordeaux wine council (CIVB).

The rebel Bordeaux Winegrowers Action Committee (CAVB), to be officially launched on Thursday, is looking at legal action to stop paying annual dues to the CIVB.

"The CIVB is a massive failure," said Dominique Techer, spokesperson for the new committee. "It had a historic role but that is finished."

The rebels accuse the wine council of failing in its core missions -- to promote Bordeaux wine, regulate the market and represent equally the interests of wine merchants and growers.

Georges Haushalter, wine merchant and president of the CIVB, defended the council's record, saying that for five years it had focused its budget on supporting "the heart of the Bordeaux market," wines that sell for less than 15 euros (20 dollars) a bottle and that "allow the sector to make a respectable living."

But the situation has grown desperate for many humble estates, with revenues falling steadily over the last decade and volatility in the bulk wine market.

"In my last transaction, I sold my wine at 850 euros (1,120 dollars) a barrel (900 litres) while it costs us 1,350 euros to produce," said Sylvie Verdier, owner of Chateau Bessan and CAVB secretary.

Prices plummeted to 650 euros last June, which meant 1,200 bottles of basic Bordeaux red wine cost the same as one bottle of Chateau Latour.

Winegrowers further charge that they lack representation on the council, despite contributing 75 percent of its membership fees.

Previous attempts by rebel winegrowers to break with the CIVB foundered on legal grounds.

"We consulted lawyers to do the same thing but they never found the loophole we needed to complete the operation," said Daniel Fenelon, head of an inter-appellation wine council created in 2009 and counting 1,500 members.

Meanwhile Didier Cousiney, who set up the Winegrowers Collective 33 in 2003, said he tried to stop paying his dues, but after two and a half years was forced to settle up or have his wines blocked by customs officials.

© 2010 AFP

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