Forget the beaujolais, remember Mururoa

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The Independent Online

Wine Correspondent

For once, Claude Taittinger has nothing to celebrate. The president of the prestigious champagne producer yesterday added his voice to fears in France's wine trade that the test protests were encouraging a wave of consumer boycotts which might well affect exports for months to come.

"It's a shame that we announced in June something that we began doing in September," Mr Taittinger said. "We're going to suffer for a few months until the tests are over."

The French Wine and Spirits Association yesterday confirmed that French wine sales in Denmark had plunged 10 per cent in July, and anti-nuclear boycotts were strongly suspected to be the reason. Jerome Quiot, the association president, said that the effect would not be fully noticed until November, when the new vintage wines come on the market. Normally, up to two-thirds of some new wines such as beaujolais are exported.

Mr Quiot has told French government officials of his concern about a permanent loss of market share in some countries. "We're not persuaded that the effects will stop the day the tests end," he said.

At the moment anti-French activity is at its strongest in Denmark and Sweden. But fears of a widespread boycott affecting the French wine industry - which is estimated to employ, directly and indirectly, a million people - are equally focused on the Netherlands and Germany, both of which are critical markets for France.

The French Wine and Spirit Exporters Federation is compiling a dossier which indicates that producers are already feeling the effects of both cancelled and suspended orders. In Australia, New Zealand and the developing markets of South-east Asia, French wines have become the pariahs of the Pacific.

Although the evidence is still largely anecdotal, if the picturesque villages of Roadwater and Luxborough in the Brendon Hills of west Somerset are anything to go by, the French producers are right to feel worried. Two local CND activists, Harry Horobin, aged 82, and Eva Poventud, 63, have succeeded in signing up all but two of the villagers so far petitioned to pledge not to buy any French wines during the Mururoa tests.

If the Luxborough effect were to ripple throughout the country, the effect would be devastating. The UK is France's most valued export market. With imports of French wines equal to more than 3,000 million bottles and worth Fr4bn (pounds 533m), the UK consumes one-fifth of all French wine exports. Only Germany matches our traditional penchant for claret and vin de pays.

Luxborough and Roadwater notwithstanding, however, the wine trade in this country is reporting business to be very much as usual.

"Apart from one 'disgusted' letter," says Allan Cheesman, head of Sainsbury's drinks department, "there has been no discernible customer reaction or impact on sales.

"It's not our policy to dictate what customers will or will not buy. They have the choice. All our products are clearly labelled French."