Sour market triggers French wine-growers' rage

7th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

BORDEAUX, France. Dec 7 (AFP) - Thousands of French wine-growers staged protests around the country Wednesday to demand government aid to offset a crisis of collapsing markets.

BORDEAUX, France. Dec 7 (AFP) - Thousands of French wine-growers staged protests around the country Wednesday to demand government aid to offset a crisis of collapsing markets.

In what organisers described as the industry's biggest ever day of action, demonstrations were held in all the main wine-producing areas apart from Alsace and Champagne, which are the only two to have bucked a trend towards declining incomes and rapidly shrinking sales.

In Bordeaux, Macon, Avignon, Angers, Nantes and other towns, protesters handed out tracts pressing for financial help as well as the suspension of a government publicity campaign against alcoholism which they say is unfairly hitting demand.

"Stop lynching us with your lying advertisements and start helping us sell our wines abroad!" said Alain Vironneau, president of the Union of Bordeaux Wines. Some 6,000 people were joined by politicians of all parties for a march through the city centre.

Locals said it was the largest demonstration by wine-growers in the capital of claret since a historic crisis in the industry in 1905. "I have been working on my father's vineyard for two years and I want to take over, but I won't be able to if they keep attacking us and demonising us like this," said 23-year-old Joris Larriaut.

Wine-making federations are demanding money for farmers wishing to move from vines to other crops, greater compensation for uprooting unprofitable vineyards, dispensation from social charges and allowances for distilling excess production.

Agriculture Minister Dominique Bussereau told parliament that he will meet representatives of the protest movement on December 14 to discuss their grievances.

Latest figures have confirmed the French wine industry's steady decline in foreign sales, as competitors from Australia and Latin America seize greater parts of the important US and British markets with heavily-promoted variety-based vintages.

In the first eight months of 2004 French exports were down 5.6 percent in volume and 9.6 percent in value over the same period in the year before - the sixth successive annual decline. Worst hit were Bordeaux wines, whose exports lost more than 25 percent in value.

At the same time domestic consumption continues its historic decline, with the average French adult drinking some 50 litres per year today compared to126 litres in the 1960s. Government publicity campaigns against alcoholism and crackdowns on drink-driving have further hit demand.

Meanwhile this year's grape harvest in much of France has been unusually abundant, leading to overproduction and falling prices. In the Bordeaux region the 2004 vintage will produce some 700 million litres - while the market can normally sustain only 550 million.

Wine-growers are furious that they are bearing the brunt of the government campaigns against alcohol abuse, and argue that wine is a part of French heritage that should enjoy special protection.

In October deputies in the National Assembly voted through an amendment to a rural affairs law that would exempt wine from laws that heavily restrict publicity for alcoholic drinks.

However, after first acquiescing to the change, the government has since come under pressure from health campaigners to block the amendment --which has yet to complete its passage through parliament.

The crisis has provoked an often bitter debate over whether the future of French wine lies in chasing the global market for easily-identifiable brands or in strengthening the country's tradition of local particularity known as "terroir."


Subject: French News

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