France hits out at EU wine reform

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wine European union France

Commission plans to sort out Europe's ailing wine sector hit their
first road block within hours of being unveiled, after the French
government rejected key proposals as too destructive.

Dominique Bussereau, France's agriculture minister, said it was "unacceptable"​ for the Commission to propose ripping out 400,000 hectares of EU vines, or to abolish distillation subsidies for surplus wine "without offering a credible alternative"​.

"This reform lacks the ambition needed in the sector,"​ said Bussereau, adding that "if changes to the common market for wine are necessary, several options put forward by the Commission can only be rejected by France"​.

France's sceptical reaction to the Commission's initial wine reform plans, unveiled on Thursday, shows just how difficult it may be to push through change.

The Commission has called for deep-rooted reform as Europe's wine sector struggles to cope with overproduction, falling consumption in the EU and rising competition from the New World producers.

As part of reform, Mariann Fischer Boel said the Commission would spend €2.4bn to help winemakers rip up vines, in an attempt dry up Europe's 1.5bn-litre wine lake.

The practice of paying to distil wines that won't sell into industrial alcohol could then be abolished.

"We spend far too much money disposing of surpluses instead of building our quality and competitiveness. Over-complex rules hold back our producers and confuse our consumers. I am not advocating cutting the budget, of about €1.2 bn a year, but we must use this money more intelligently,"​ she said.

The vine chopping scheme would be voluntary and the Commission offered a choice of running it over a five-year period or getting it done by 2010. Planting rights restrictions would also be abolished at the end of this 'grubbing up' period.

Among the other proposals, the Commission said it wanted to establish two distinct categories of wine: those with protected origin status and those without.

Labelling rules would be simplified, however, to allow wines without protected origin status to put the grape variety on their labels for the first time; a marketing tactic that has already worked well for the New World.

Despite scepticism to the Commission's proposals for solving overproduction, there was a cautious welcome from some producers on the need to restructure the wine industry to be more competitive.

Denis Verdier, president of France's Wine Cooperatives' Union, told​ that French winemakers "had failed to seduce new consumers"​.

Verdier and his colleagues were instrumental in setting up the new 'South of France' wine brand in Languedoc Roussillon, bringing together 19 Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) wine areas and around 15,000 vin de pays producers under one banner.

After political wrangling over legality of the deal, the regional government has said it will hand over a €20m marketing fund to promote the brand, which has yet to make its debut.

A common complaint from French wine circles in recent weeks is that the Commission lacks these kinds of dynamic ideas for the wine sector.

Jean-François Chapelle, a French winemaker involved in meetings with the Commission, warned that EU officials were focusing too much on ripping out vines.

"Is there anyone who has any original ideas for wine in Europe? The most important thing is that our wines do not fit with what consumers want to drink,"​ he told​ recently, adding more should be done to help wineries adapt and market Europe's wine heritage.

Related topics Markets Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

Related news

Show more