France will rip up vines, but not enough

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

France has announced plans to rip up more than 16,000 hectares of
vines in an attempt to dig its wine industry out of trouble, but it
seems likely that more will have to follow.

The Languedoc Rousillon region, France's biggest wine-producing area will lose the most - around 12,400 hectares (ha) - while the famous Bordeaux region (Gironde) will see 1,800ha of vines chopped.

Some vineyards will cut vines forever to help reduce over-production, while others will plant new vines to try and convert more wine to meet the demands of today's consumers.

The government encouraged vintners to apply before its 31 December deadline for funds to rip up vines.

Various industry officials and observers, however, have said the 16,342 hectares to be ripped up is unlikely to be enough, representing just two per cent of France's total vine area. Bordeaux's 1,800ha is a small start to its target of 10,000ha of vines to be pulled out or converted within three years.

Jean Huillet, head of France's General Assembly of Winemakers, appealed in November last year for more winemakers to take advantage of the vine-chopping scheme.

Yet, he and others in the industry said the European Commission needed to make sure all European Union countries were taking similar measures. "What is the point of France taking out vines if Spain and Italy keep planting more?"​ said Huillet.

This has been a common complaint among vintners over the last year, as French wine has continued to suffer from overproduction, falling domestic consumption and a shrinking export market.

"We are playing the same game but by different rules,"​ said one young vintner at a winemakers' protest in Nimes last year, in reference to the perceived less stringent planting controls on vines in Italy and Spain.

Word from the European Commission is that common market reform of the wine sector is coming, with initial proposals set to debut in the autumn of this year. France's Wine Co-operatives' Union (CCVF) said it supported the reform in principle.

Prices on the French wine sector, meanwhile, have so far failed to recover after tumbling by more than half in some cases last year.

The atmosphere remains particularly tense in Languedoc Roussillon, home of the militant winemaker group CRAV, where there are regular complaints about cheap wine imports from Spain. Denis Verdier, head of the CCVF, said it was "scandalous"​ that Spanish wine imports had risen from three million to seven million hectolitres in the last few years.

Several regional French winemakers' unions have agreed to hold a 'national wine day' on 8 February as the latest attempt to both publicise their problems and promote French wine.

Minutes from the European Commission's recent Wine Management Committee meeting showed that French delegates intended to request crisis distillation funds again this year.

The Commission found an extra €145m in 'crisis funds' last year to distil some of Europe's leftover wine into industrial alcohol. But it warned conditions will be stricter this year and could be tied to a reform package for the EU wine sector, expected out by the autumn.

This year's wine harvest has been lower in Europe's main three wine-producing countries - France, Spain and Italy - with yields falling nine per cent, 17-19 per cent and 6.5 per cent respectively.

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