Sour grapes and subsidies bedevil French wine - Europe - World - The Independent

Sour grapes and subsidies bedevil French wine

The grapes of wrath are fermenting in some of the best-known vineyards of France.

Leading wine producers will petition the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, in Paris today to demand urgent action to resolve a collapse in sales and wholesale prices that menaces the entire philosophy on which French wine is made, labelled and marketed.

After decades of action to reduce over-production of cheap table wines, France now faces the unthinkable - an appellation contrôlée wine lake. Exports of middle-market wines with protected names from regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy fell by 9 per cent last year, the fourth fall in five years. France remains the world's biggest exporter but is losing ground - especially in Britain and other northern European Union countries - to New World wines, which are clearly labelled, easily recognisable and standardised in taste and quality.

French domestic wine consumption slowed yet again last year, as younger people turned to beer, or soft-drinks or alco-pops and older people responded to a new campaign against drink-driving. Sales of wine in French restaurants fell by one fifth. Wine-producers blame their woes, in part, on a French law restricting the advertising of alcoholic drinks.

In Burgundy yesterday, they draped black, plastic sheets over the name signs of some of the most celebrated towns and villages in the world - Beaune, Pommard, Meursault - to protest against a recent court ruling that the advertising restrictions apply to even the highest quality French wines.

A delegation of wine producers from all over France will visit M. Raffarin today to demand immediate action to promote exports and domestic consumption and to boost producer prices.

After months of warnings, denials and internal squabbles between competing interests, the long-threatened crisis in the middle-market, French wine industry has exploded into the open. (Superior quality wines and all champagnes are still booming.) The wholesale price of generic claret - red wine which has the legal right to call itself Bordeaux - has collapsed by almost half in the past three years, from about €1,500 (£1,000) for a tonneau, or 900-litre barrel, to €850.

This works out at about 60p a litre wholesale for the kind of wine which has, typically, reached the shops at about 10 times that price.

France has known for years that its once-effortless domination of the world wine trade is doomed. New World wines have been siphoning off foreign consumers who want to spend up to £10 on a bottle of wine and be sure of what they are buying.

French wines, with their jumble of 466 different protected titles, or appellations - sometimes wonderful, sometimes less than wonderful, and frequently confusing - have been losing ground.

Rather than pull together, the industry is engaged in an increasingly heated war between regional interests, purists and modernists. Should France reconstruct - even partly abandon - the entire system of appellations on which the philosophy, and marketing strategy, of French wine has been based? Should France shelve its mystical belief that the identity of a wine is rooted in a specific locality, or terroir? Should it adopt - for the middle of the market - the New World approach, based on the standardised production of brightly labelled bottles, identified by popular grape varieties, such as Chardonnay or Cabernet-Sauvignon?

Some French wine traders and buyers blame the loss of market share on the failure of the wine industry to police its own system of appellations d'origines contrôlées (AOC) more rigorously.

"There are 15 to 20 per cent of AOC wines which are pigswill ... but no one will take the responsibility to tighten the rules," said Jean-Luc Roché, a buyer for one of the largest French supermarket chains.

Other wine traders and growers believe that the problem is more systematic. The system of hundreds of appellations is no longer sustainable, they say, in a world where brand names and logos rule.

A committee set up by the previous, Socialist-led French government recommended three years ago that a large chunk of the moderate-to-good quality French vineyards should abandon their own labels and pool their grapes in consistent-quality, simply labelled wines, like their Australian competitors. The idea was rejected by purists as a heretical surrender to globalisation and the erosion of local specialities. It was fiercely opposed by producers in the Languedoc region in the deep south, who were already successfully producing "Australian" wines in France and did not want other, better-known wine-growing areas to compete with them.

As the crisis deepened, wine-producers in Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Loire have started to examine the possibility of creating Australian wines, marketed partly under regional names, partly by grape varieties. The INAO, the organisation that polices French wine appellations, has, in recent weeks, been testing another idea on wine traders in France and abroad. The best of the wines that qualify for protected titles would be promoted into a premier league, or Super-AOC. The rest would be placed in a second division with fewer controls on how they are made.

But how splitting the system in two would simplify the choice for consumers, and improve the reliability and reputation of French wines, remains unclear.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week