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French wine firm livid after militants attack

By Chris Mercer , 21-Mar-2006

One of southern France's biggest wine groups has pulled out of negotiations over a battle plan for the country's ailing wine sector, days after militant winemakers sent 1.5m litres of its wine flowing into the street.

Jean Devic, president of the Val d'Orbieu group, said his firm would take no further part in discussions with industry representatives or politicians in light of the attack it suffered at the hands of militant vintners last Friday.

He said Val d'Orbieu would not come back to talks until more constructive solutions to France's wine crisis had been put forward. The government and industry's inaction and refusal to meet economic realities head on were hampering the process, he added.

Tension has increased across Val d'Orbieu's home region, Languedoc Roussillon, in recent months as the financial crisis gripping France's wine industry has deepened.

Masked men, claiming to be from the shadowy Regional Action Committee of Winemakers (CRAV), took just 20 minutes last Friday to break open several of Val d'Orbieu's wine vats, sending millions of bottles-worth of French wine gushing into the street.

Devic told BeverageDaily.com the damage could cost between €1.5m and €2m. "It is all French wine, I hope there will not be any more [attacks]," he said.

It is thought that Val d'Orbieu was targeted because of its commercial nature. Large businesses, retailers and sales houses have been attacked in the last year in anger at the low prices offered to winemakers for their wines.

Yet, Devic said Val d'Orbieu employed 100 people near Narbonne and collected wine from 15 different co-operatives in the Languedoc region. Around 70 per cent of this wine is then exported, making the group an annual €400m in sales.

One source close to CRAV told www.BeverageDaily.com that the atmosphere among winemakers in Languedoc Roussillon had become "very, very bad.

"The agriculture minister has left the situation to go downhill, he has said nothing. The violence is a consequence of that."

CRAV attacks have increased in ferocity and intensity since Christmas, and millions of litres of Spanish, Italian and French wine have been spilled in streets across the region.

Police arrested nine winemakers near Montpellier last week in connection with several attacks, including on police cars, wine houses and local government offices.

In the end, four were charged with hampering traffic flow, while five were released shortly afterwards without charge.

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