French Fat Bastard may lead to wine war with US

22nd June 2005, Comments 0 comments

BORDEAUX, France, June 22 (AFP) - The US administration is threatening a wine war with Europe as French producers target American consumers with new brands such as 'Fat Bastard' and 'Red Bicycle', French officials say.

BORDEAUX, France, June 22 (AFP) - The US administration is threatening a wine war with Europe as French producers target American consumers with new brands such as 'Fat Bastard' and 'Red Bicycle', French officials say.

Washington is demanding a new wine accord by July 15 to replace one which expired in 2003 and which would enshrine American wine-making practices banned in Europe.

These include adding oak wood chips to barrels of wine to hasten the ageing process, adding water to must (the grape juice before fermentation is complete), and the use of ion extractors to reduce acidity.

Representatives of struggling French wine producers appealed at the international Vinexpo wine fair in southwestern Bordeaux this week to Agriculture Minister Dominique Bussereau and External Trade Minister Christine Lagarde to protect their interests in the negotiations.

European Union officials, pushed by traditionalists, are so far refusing to extend a current dispensation allowing the American practices, but US officials say that if no agreement is reached they will tighten application of the Bioterrorism Act.

This law, introduced after the September 11 2001 attacks in the United States, covers imports of all food and drink.

Patrick Ricard, a major figure in the industry, with interests in Britain and Australia as well as France, called for pragmatism.

"Better a bad agreement than no agreement at all," he declared, though adding wryly: "If there is no agreement, I'll sell more Australian Jacob's Creek in the United States."

France is the European country the most affected, with exports of wine and spirits to the United States worth EUR 1.6 billion last year. Its wine industry is in crisis, however, as a result of overproduction and stiff competition from such countries as South Africa, Australia and Chile.

At the trade fair, meanwhile, a huge biennial event attended by more than 40,000 professionals from around the world, French producers are showing off their ideas for conquering the United States.

Consumption of wine in France is dropping, but Americans have increased theirs from eight to 13 litres a head over the past 10 years, French trade officials say, with 60 million Americans now drinking wine.

'Fat Bastard', which has a label picturing a hippopotamus, is doing well there, along with 'Wild Pig', both produced by the Gabriel Meffre company in the south of France.

"We sold five million bottles in 2004 and we're working toward 10 to 12 million bottles in two or three years," said export manager Anthony Taylor.

The company is also selling a wine targeted at Latin Americans and labelled -- in Spanish - 'Tres Bandidos' (Three Bandits) -- with a label apparently shot through by pistol bullets.

Another company in the south of France, Yvon Mau, is marketing a wine called 'You', selling for five to six dollars in the United States, and which has a screw-top.

"We should be able to sell two million bottles a year from 2007," said its chief executive officer, Francois Mau.

'Red Bicycle' produced by the Sieur d'Arques cooperative in the south, has a label showing a Frenchman on a bicycle, wearing a beret, and followed by a dog with a baguette in its mouth.

In 2004, world production of wine topped out at some 287 million hectolitres, a nearly 10 percent increase over 2003, and close to the absolute record of 296 hectolitres set in 1992, according to statistics compiled by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine.

One hectolitre is the equivalent of 133 bottles of wine.

At the same time, overall consumption worldwide has remained largely stagnant, increasing less than two percent from 227 million hectolitres in 1996 to 230 million in 2004.

That adds up to production of more than 50 million hectolitres more wine than is drunk, roughly the equivalent of the entire annual production of the Bordeaux region.


Subject: French news

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