Militant French winemakers step up violence

By Chris Mercer in Languedoc Roussillon

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Languedoc roussillon Languedoc-roussillon

Burning police cars, wine gushing into streets and trashed
government offices have threatened to send violence in southern
France's vineyards out of control this week.

Attacks by militant vintner group CRAV have sent more than a million litres of Italian, Spanish and some French wine gushing into the streets of France's Languedoc Roussillon region over the last 10 days.

The shadowy group, known in full as the Regional Action Committee of Winemakers, has stepped up attacks as France's wine crisis tightens its grip on the many small-time winemakers in Languedoc Roussillon.

Activists, mostly masked and armed with iron bars, have also trashed government social security offices, a branch of the Crédit Agricole bank and railway signals in the last fortnight.

Authorities have appeared unable to control the wave of violence that has swept through the region. Two police cars were set on fire Monday after trying to intercept suspected CRAV activists.

The rising tension is a far cry from the glamour and celebrations that saw Languedoc Roussillon united behind the launch of its ground-breaking 'South of France' wine brand two weeks ago.

Many on the ground, however, say the economic situation for winemakers is now desperate. Both a local union official and the Bishop of Carcassonne told​ there had been suicides in the region.

Pascal Frissant, of the farming union Confederation Paysanne, said: "There are households down here with no more money to give. They cannot even afford to pay back the banks. We must find a solution to get more money to these people and their businesses."

A source close to CRAV said the militant group was gaining more and more members because of this.

There are thought to be around 500 CRAV members in the areas around Nimes and Montpellier alone, with at least another 200, and probably more, further south towards Narbonne. This excludes suspected passive support, which has allowed vintners to 'disappear' quickly after attacks.

The increase in violence has brought fresh condemnation from French agriculture minister Dominique Bussereau. He called the attacks inacceptable, but said the government "must quickly find meaningful and lasting solutions for a region and an economic sector that is struggling."

Bussereau is expected to unveil a new strategy to "re-launch"​ France's wine sector by the end of April.

Many smaller winemakers feel, however, there will soon be little left to lose. Union officials estimate between 30 and 50 per cent of wineries in Languedoc Roussillon will disappear over the next few years.

French wine prices have struggled to rise after falling 40 per cent in some cases over the last year.

Andrea Alibert, who heads a wine co-operative alongside her husband near Narbonne, said at a recent protest: "I've been there for 41 years and I've never known it this bad. It's even worse because this time it is not just France - there are problems with wine all over the world."

Critics say France has brought the crisis down on itself by producing too much sub-standard wine that nobody wants to drink.

Related topics Markets Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

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