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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 September 2006, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
French row over vineyard motorway
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC News, Bordeaux, France

Margaux wine labels
The finest Margaux wines command very high prices
Baron Geoffroy de Luze usually loves this time of year, when the soft rains fall on the grapes in Margaux just before the harvest.

He can look out over his vineyards in the hope of another vintage year - but not this year.

The baron is filled with foreboding because the French authorities are threatening to build a motorway right next to his vines.

He is one of many winemakers in the region fighting back over plans for a motorway which they say will ruin the country's most profitable vineyards in the Medoc. It is an area of Bordeaux world-famous for the quality of its wines.

The Bordeaux authorities will decide this week which routes to put forward to the French transport ministry, and whether the Bordeaux bypass should be constructed next to the Margaux vineyards or elsewhere, further from the valuable vines.

Officials say the bypass is needed to minimise congestion on the motorway from Paris down to Spain and Portugal.

'Disaster'

But Baron Geoffroy - whose wines, under the name of Chateau Paveil de Luze, have been the family business for as long as anyone can remember - is not convinced that it needs to run right alongside his land.

A chateau in Margaux
Margaux is a jewel - would you run a motorway through the park of Versailles?
Baron Geoffroy de Luze
Winemaker

"This is going to upset the whole micro-climate here, and perhaps also the very fine grapes that we have that make very fine wine.

"The motorway would come within 70m (231ft) of my vineyards, and who knows what impact it will have on the wine and the soil? This is why we are very worried here in Margaux," he says, examining the grapes ahead of this week's harvest.

"From the projections, we will get 25,000 big lorries a day on a motorway that will be six lanes in total, so it's bound to affect our environment. And Margaux is a jewel. Would you run a motorway through the park of Versailles?" he asks rhetorically.

Baron de Luze insists that his battle is not a case of "not in my back vineyard" but a genuine fear that the motorway could prove a disaster in this finely balanced eco-system.

The wines produced here are among the world's best-known Bordeaux. Indeed, some of Margaux's top chateaux, such as Chateau Margaux, are commanding prices of up to 276 ($519) a bottle for their 2005 vintage.

Official plan

Gonzague Lurtonm of the Margaux Winemakers' Union is baffled as to why the French authorities would risk even the slightest damage to a region famed as much for its fine countryside as for its fine wines.

map

"Margaux is one of the most important appellations or regions for wine - and many come here to visit as a result of that. It means something for the world. So why run the risk of spoiling it?

"Tourists don't fly thousands of miles to look at a motorway," he says.

Yet the official the winegrowers need to persuade, the powerful prefet or chief administrator of the Gironde region, is unconvinced.

This week, Francis Idrac will tell the transport ministry in Paris which route he prefers for the Bordeaux bypass.

The alternative route to the one skirting within yards of the Margaux vineyards would mean bulldozing homes instead - and the prefet says no route is uncontroversial in a region packed with vineyards.

A woman harvests grapes in France's Bordeaux region
There are some 10,000 winemakers in the Bordeaux region
"There are many very fine appellations which live well with a motorway nearby - maybe not as great as Margaux, but nearly as great.

"So they cannot say 'this bypass is necessary but don't build it in my backyard'. That is not a sufficient argument.

"And as for the environment - I agree, we would have to be very careful and we would have to take measures to safeguard it. But I don't believe that our engineers are any less capable of that than the Dutch engineers who originally turned the region from a marsh into usable land," Mr Idrac says.

Yet Margaux's winegrowers argue that they are not just selling wine but a dream: of a rural French paradise that lures wine lovers from around the world.

And they say French bureaucrats tread on those dreams at their peril.


SEE ALSO
Draining France's 'wine lake'
10 Aug 06 |  Europe
France ... plus ca change?
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Firm of 'Beaujolais king' fined
05 Jul 06 |  Europe
Europe diary: Wine culture
23 Jun 06 |  Europe
EU seeks to tackle wine crisis
22 Jun 06 |  Business
Q&A: EU wine reform
22 Jun 06 |  Europe

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