French government pledges new wine strategy

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wine Wine industry Nicolas sarkozy France European union

French prime minister Dominique de Villepin said the plan would
help to dig France out of wine crisis, yet under-pressure
winemakers are planning more protests.

Villepin told a delegation of winemakers from several regions that the government would present proposals to tackle the crisis in the French wine industry in around two or three months.

He said the national strategy would, amongst other things, help French wine to "recover lost markets"​, as well as examine industry structure.

Vintners had requested the meeting with the prime minister amid rising tension in the sector, after a year that has seen wine prices tumble, France losing share on wine export markets and many wineries struggling to stay above water.

The French government also said agriculture minister Dominique Bussereau would be going to Brussels to argue for more crisis distillation funds from the European Union this year.

The moves, however, still seem unlikely to quell the discontent among many winemakers in the short-term, at least until more concrete proposals appear.

Militant vintner group CRAV re-launched its violent campaign against foreign wine before Christmas, and one source close to the group told​ that its membership was increasing steadily as the crisis continued.

Winemakers in Languedoc-Roussillon, France's biggest wine region, are planning to protest in Narbonne later this month.

A wine protest there last year descended into teargas and Molotov cocktails after an initially peaceful, yet emotional march through the city.

Several wine industry officials, including Denis Verdier, president of France's wine cooperatives' union have accused the government of not listening to winemakers' problems and blindly throwing money at the crisis instead.

Verdier and some colleagues launched a wine industry battle plan at a recent wine production show in Montpellier.

The plan included short-term measures such as certain tax exemptions and a fixed minimum wine price for six months, as well as longer-term proposals like European Union common market reforms and vineyard conversions.

Jean Huillet, head of the General Assembly of Winemakers, said: "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."

A number of French winemakers also feel that the European Commission must take more steps to harmonise the national wine industries within the EU.

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