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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 01:04 GMT
French winemakers take on ad ban
More than 2,000 French vineyard owners and worker march through the Burgundy town of Chalon-sur-Saone 25 February 2004 to demand the lifting of restrictions on their right to advertise
French winemakers are worried about a slump in sales
French wine producers are fighting back against a law that restricts alcohol advertising.

The French national beverage, they say, should not be treated like just another alcoholic drink - but as a part of the very fabric of the nation.

"Wine is an important part of our culture," said Xavier Carreau, president of Vin et Societe, which represents wine professionals.

"It can't be lumped together with other alcohol. It's different. It has a certain nobility."

Winemakers, faced with a slump in sales, have held crisis talks with Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin to demand exemption from a law banning all television advertising of alcohol and restricting print advertising.

"We are facing a crisis," said Guillaume Willette of the Burgundy Wine Association. "Wine is part of our culture - and this is a debate about the place of wine in French society."

Overseas competition

But the government has so far refused to budge, hailing the success of a crackdown on drink-driving and alcohol abuse, which it started last year.

According to the government, road deaths fell by more than 20% in 2003 to about 5,700 - still among the highest death rates in Europe.

On Wednesday, more than 2,000 winegrowers marched in the Burgundy region, demanding changes to the law.

Some carried signs reading: "We are not dealers. We are not killers."

Wine sales are down at home and abroad. One factor is the growing competition from New World wines, such as those from the US, Australia and South America.

A strong euro has also pushed up the cost of French wine for buyers in countries like the UK.

Some winemakers also blame a boycott of French products by Americans angry at France's opposition to the US-led war in Iraq.

But not everyone agrees with the stand that French winemakers are taking.

"No-one is above the law," said the National Association for Prevention of Alcoholism and Addiction."

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