Aid to French Growers

French government promises aid to rioting French grape growers.

The French prime minister Dominique de Villepin promised December 20 to restructure the wine industry, "making what we have to offer more acceptable to consumers."  His meeting with 14 representatives of growers across the country, came at a time when grape growers anger at falling sales and prices exploded in the south of France and in Bordeaux.

In Languedoc, the largest vineyard area in France, a militant group known as CRAV (Comité Régionale d'Action Viticole) burst into the cellars of the Chais du Sud winery and broke open vats, sending 200,000 gallons of wine pouring into the streets of Sête. In downtown Bordeaux, growers bricked up the entrance to the Bordeaux Wine Council for three days. CRAV is promising further attacks on cellars and on tanker trucks carrying wine.

Growers in Bordeaux are protesting the low prices being paid by the big merchants for their wine. Basic bulk prices have fallen as low as $800 for one hecoliter (26 gallons). So concerned are Bordeaux growers that their trade organization refused to authorize the certification of their wine as Bordeaux until merchants agreed to pay $1,200 per hectoliter.

Stocks of unsold wine in France have reached their highest level ever. Some growers in the worst hit region, Languedoc, have not sold any wine at all this year. They are demanding help either to rip out their vines completely or to replace their poor quality vines with better quality grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Grenache.

The crisis in stocks and prices is a direct result of falling domestic sales (a fall of one million consumers in the past five years) and a sharp drop in exports (down by six percent this year). International competition has left the French wine industry, dominated by small companies, in disarray.

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