French wine militants attack supermarkets

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Languedoc-roussillon France

Militant winemakers have claimed responsibility for explosions and
fires at several supermarkets in southern France, raising concerns
of a return to violence in the region.

Minor explosions at supermarkets across Languedoc Roussillon, from the cities of Narbonne to Nimes, may signify the re-start of a campaign by the region's militant winemaker group, Comité (Régionale) d'Action Viticole (CAV).

Many Languedoc winemakers remain heavily in debt as a result of France's recent travails on the world wine market, and fear they will be hit hard by EU plans to rip out 400,000 vines in its upcoming wine reform programme.

No one was injured in the supermarket attacks, although the force of the explosions was enough to blow out windows at some of the retailers.

Police arrested the head of a local wine co-operative, l'Occitane.

He was being held in Montpellier on Monday.

It is a tense situation that threatens to cause more disruption to wine trade in the region, while critics warn that CAV members could further harm France's image in the wine world.

More radical splinter factions within CAV threatened to escalate violence this year, despite calls for calm from the group's leaders, a source close to the organisation told BeverageDaily.com recently.

"It is a dangerous situation at the moment.

There is an emerging radicalism in the region's wine sector, which risks ending in trouble."

Some elements of France's wine industry have seen conditions improve over the last year, thanks to unprecedented co-operation on marketing.

The same is true of Languedoc Roussillon, but its sprawling network of vineyards is still set to be worst hit by EU wine reform, according to a European Commission report.

More than half of Languedoc winemakers reported a loss last year, running into thousands of euros for some.

Those sympathetic to CAV describe the group as a "resistance movement" , fighting against price cuts of big supermarkets and wine merchants.

The militant group has deep roots in Languedoc, dating back to the large winemakers' rebellion of 1907.

Leftwing French farming group, the Confederation Paysanne , said Monday it stood "in solidarity with winemakers facing crisis" .

It described the recent supermarket attacks as "moderate" .

Police have stepped up attempts to prevent CAV operations over the last year.

But one member of the gendarmerie, who wished to remain anonymous, told BeverageDaily.com

he understood winemakers' concerns.

"It has been heated at times, but I am from the south, I understand the situation.

Some of these people have had vineyards in their families for generations, and now they see no money coming in."

Critics of CAV's violent tactics have grown in number.

Denis Verdier, head of France's Wine Co-operatives' Union, said the violence destroyed marketing efforts.

However, part of the problem for modernisers like Verdier is that many members of CAV see no future for themselves in France's 21st Century wine industry.

Local unions admit privately that around 30 per cent of Languedoc winemakers are likely to disappear.

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