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Grapes of Wrath: Wine Crisis in France's Vineyards

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Issue: 24 Section: International News Geography: Europe France Topics: food security

December 9, 2004

Grapes of Wrath: Wine Crisis in France's Vineyards

by Shannon Hines

It's the worst wine crisis in more than a century. On Wednesday, Dec. 8, tens of thousands of angry winemakers protested in Avignon, Macon, Angers, Nantes, Bordeaux, Blois and Tours, demanding the government pay attention to the recently struggling wine industry. It marked the first time makers in all of France's principal winemaking regions – excluding Champagne – protested simultaneously.

Winemakers are seeking aid to combat losses caused by overproduction and diminishing export markets for their wine. They are also critical of the French government's strict advertising laws on alcohol, which the winemakers believe are unfairly applied to wine. The industry is demanding state help ranging from a €10,000 emergency payment for young winemakers, to a fund aimed at encouraging older producers to take early retirement. Growers also want money made available for those who wish to reorganize their businesses or move into other forms of agriculture.

Bernard Layre, head of France's Young Farmers' union, told the Guardian Unlimited: "We need a rescue plan for the wine industry because prices have fallen to unimaginable levels, consumption is dropping at home and abroad and thousands of winemakers are quite literally on the verge of bankruptcy."

France's wine industry, which employs 300,000 people and is worth €5.7 billion, has been hit by a crippling range of setbacks, which include the rise of the Euro and the loss of sales in the US due to anti-French sentiments.

France has also been losing ground to the so-called "New World" of wines: California, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and South America. French wine exports declined by about five per cent last year and are set to fall again this year. Wine consumption in France also fell by 10 per cent last year, continuing a trend that has seen domestic sales slump by 50 per cent in the past 40 years.

France's "Day of Action" was not the first sign of crisis. French winemakers met with Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin in February 2004 to demand action from their government.

» Guardian Unlimited: Collective whine by French vineyards

» Wine International: Day of Action across France

» Wine International: French winemakers take their concerns to the top

» Decanter.com: TV documentary highlights French wine crisis

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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