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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 March, 2004, 09:01 GMT
French winegrowers' grapes of wrath

By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent in Paris

French vineyard owners demand the lifting of restrictions on their right to advertise
French winemakers are worried about a slump in sales

In France, winegrowers have gone to Parliament to lobby MPs to reverse a law which bans most alcohol advertising.

French wine-makers complain that their industry is in crisis, thanks to a government clampdown on drink-driving and a dramatic fall in sales both at home and abroad.

At Les Bouchons, or the Wine Corks restaurant just off the Champs Elysees, diners are happily tucking into its speciality, French fish dishes rounded off with a selection of the hundreds of French wines on its 10 page wine menu.

As its proprietor says, wine in France is less a drink, more a way of life.

Yet the diners here - mostly prosperous businessmen in their late 40s and 50s - are becoming the exception rather than the rule in their fondness for a glass or two over lunch.

We are like artists - each vintage we try to make a masterpiece and we really want to share our passion with the consumer
Burgundy wine-grower Agnes Dewe

Over the past 40 years the French have halved their wine consumption, from 126 litres per person a year to just 56. So why are the French turning their noses up at the national drink?

Diners here say it's a combination of things. Thierry, who runs his own business in Paris, says it's the young who are to blame.

"They drink Coca-Cola, or hard drinks like whisky, and no-one has the time to sit down and enjoy a bottle of wine. It's part of the Coca-colonisation of life in France."

His colleague Laurent blames harsher drink-driving laws, which make people less likely to go out for a drink in the evening. "We are losing a vital part of French life," he believes.

Alcoholic concerns

Whatever the reasons, many wine-growers in France fear that the dramatic decline in consumption could mean losing their livelihood.

A recent demonstration in the Burgundy region brought thousands of wine-growers onto the streets to demand action from the French government.

They want it to repeal the law brought in by the Socialist government in 1991 banning most alcohol advertising.

Cafe in Paris
Other drinks are becoming popular in Paris cafe society

It was aimed at cutting alcoholism, but instead has stopped wine-makers promoting the charms of their own individual, regional brands.

A recent ad with the strap-line "drink less, but drink better" was deemed illegal by a French court.

Burgundy wine-grower Agnes Dewe worries that wine is being demonised as a dangerous drug in France.

"We are very frustrated because we are almost being compared to a dealer, making hard drugs. But that's not how we feel," she says.

"We are like artists - each vintage we try to make a masterpiece and we really want to share our passion with the consumer but at the moment we are not allowed to do that."

Ruddy-faced farmers

At the annual agricultural fair in Paris, the Salon d'Agriculture, there's no sign of any diminishing passion for wine.

Ruddy-faced farmers and wine experts are happily sampling the thousands of bottles on offer from across the country.

But wine marketer Jean-Noel Bossť says that problems with consumption at home are being compounded by a 10% drop in French wine sales abroad, thanks to the strong euro and the competition from new world wines, which he believes appeal to a less sophisticated consumer.

"We are facing new producers of wine - Australia, South Africa, Chile, newcomers on the market," he says," and these people are producing good wine, taking what they should take from the French experience and attacking our markets strongly."

As a result, French wine-growers are now thinking the unthinkable - and discussing simplifying their current labelling by vineyard and perhaps even creating generic brand-names to challenge the new world upstarts abroad.

But above all, they want support from the French government. And with regional elections coming up later this month, they may just find French MPs suddenly re-acquiring a patriotic taste for helping this crucial national industry, rather than face the grapes of wrath at the polls.




SEE ALSO:
French winemakers take on ad ban
26 Feb 04  |  Europe
How the Europeans drink
19 Sep 03  |  Health
Grape expectations
28 Jul 03  |  Business


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