French wine industry launches battle plan, CRAV attacks again

By Chris Mercer in Montpellier

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wine Wine industry European union France

French wine sector leaders have launched a battle plan to tackle
the industry crisis, including fixed minimum prices and vineyard
conversions, as militants re-launch their campaign in the south.

Denis Verdier, president of France's wine co-operatives union, and Jean Huillet, head of the General Assembly of Winemakers, led the charge at a press conference held during the Sitevi 2005 wine production expo in Montpellier.

Their plan included short-term measures to relieve pressure on the industry, such as: certain tax exemptions for producers, a fixed minimum wine price for six months - as provided for by law in times of crisis - and the need to make distillation semi-obligatory for wine firms in trouble.

Over the long-term, the industry heads said they supported some reform of the European Union's common market in relation to wine.

This was needed, they said, to help wineries rip up more vines and replace them with ones able to make wines more palatable to new consumers. Such a scheme could last up to eight years.

More marketing funds should also be made available by EU's common agricultural policy, according to the plan. It said the EU currently only put aside €2.5m per year to specifically market wines from the whole bloc.

Jean Huillet said France must be prepared to restructure its whole wine industry hierarchy to help consumers better understand its products.

"France's wine system is very tired. We need to re-organise the hierarchy of the industry, including the Appellation Controlée (AOC). We have to stop saying that AOC will save us.

"We must produce products to attract specific consumers and we must explain where the wine is from."

Some in the industry have, however, taken a more reactionary approach to the crisis besetting France's wine industry.

The conference came barely 24 hours after dozens of masked militants armed with baseball bats stormed a nearby wine facility in broad daylight, smashed open the vats, and sent 730,000 litres of French wine gushing into the street.

The attack marks the re-start of the campaign by militant vintner group CRAV (Comité Régional d'Action Viticole), whose attacks disrupted supplies of South American and Spanish wine moving through France's Languedoc Roussillon region before the summer.

Opinion in the industry is split on the CRAV violence, though many at the Sitevi expo thought the militants were doing more harm than good to France's wine reputation.

Huillet walked a careful line. "It seems that someone may have been injured [in Tuesday's action] and I and my friends here do not have to tell you that this is unacceptable. This is not a film, this is reality and we must never put peoples' lives in danger."

But, he said the problem was that some producers thought they were being ignored. "We have organised protests and wine giveaways this year, but some say that this is not enough."​ He added that the French government must take more responsibility to "put out the fire"​.

French wine prices have tumbled by almost half this year, notably for bottles of higher quality AOC, and the sector is widely thought to have lost pole position to Australia in its top export market, the UK.

Related topics Markets Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

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