Bordeaux boycott looms as growers protest over prices

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Furious producers of lower-quality claret are trying to plunge the Bordeaux wine industry into chaos by withdrawing this year's vintage from the market.

Angry at the collapse of wholesale claret prices, the 6,700 members of the producers' union will refuse to give an appellation côntrolée label to their 2005 wines unless they are guaranteed a minimum price.

In other words, members of the union are expected to place a boycott on their own wine. That would deprive the large Bordeaux trading houses of their bulk purchases of generic red Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur, which would normally be traded over the next two or three months.

The small wine producers accuse the traders of deliberately failing to negotiate a reasonable price for lower-quality claret on an increasingly glutted world wine market. They suspect the trading houses plan to make a large speculative profit on the wine.

The traders accuse the growers of flooding the market with unreasonable amounts of wine and failing to accept the basic laws of market economics. The dispute is part of a deepening crisis in the French wine industry, affecting all but the highest-quality "appellation" wines. Days ago, wine-growers in the Languedoc smashed vats of wine in Sète and sacked the local offices of the inland revenue and the national wine marketing organisation, Onivins.

The "self-boycott", expected to be accepted overwhelmingly by the small wine-growers in a secret ballot near Bordeaux today, would have no immediate effect on the price of claret in shops or restaurants. The 2005 vintage, said to be the best quality for years, will not be ready to drink until 2007 or 2008.

But blocking the appellation label for a large part of the 2005 harvest will provoke a crisis between growers and traders, who handle 75 per cent of Bordeaux wines. Then the wines could be sold only as near-unmarketable "table wines".

The Syndicat des vins de Bordeaux et Bordeaux Supérieur, France's largest wine producers' union, says members are being offered under €700 (£470) for a 900-litre barrel of wine, and this is below the "survival rate" for small growers.

Francis Cruse, director of the Bordeaux traders' union, said: "In a world market, you cannot impose prices. Consumers, and the law of supply and demand, fix the price."

In the 1980s and 1990s, when global claret sales were booming, Bordeaux growers hugely increased the size of their vineyards . Since 1999, largely because of New World wines, claret sales have collapsed.

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