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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 June 2007, 06:58 GMT 07:58 UK
French wine-growers go guerrilla
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent, Languedoc, France

A shadowy group in France has issued the French government with an unusual ultimatum: raise the price of wine or blood will flow.
The Crav's masked representatives
Seven men claiming to be wine-growers issued the demand

The group's name is the Crav, which stands for nothing more threatening than the Union for Viticultural Action in the Languedoc region in the south.

The Crav's deadline to the government runs out this weekend, which marks exactly 100 years since wine-makers in the region led their last revolt.

That ended with the French army shooting dead six demonstrators.

No wine-maker will publicly admit to being part of Crav but many sympathise with their demands, if not with their methods.

Driven to despair

Trimming the vines in the 17 hectares of vineyard which used to support his family, wine-grower Francois Thiebaud is in despair because of plummeting wine prices.

Francois Thiebaud
Some [growers] have even killed themselves because they couldn't feed their families on the money they earn
Francois Thiebaud
Languedoc wine-grower

He says that he and many other wine-makers in this region are now fighting for survival:

"We're working at a loss," he tells me.

"We've lost between 40 and 50% of our income because of falling prices and the big cut taken by the middle-men.

"I can only afford to carry on working in the vineyards because my wife has another job.

"And some wine-makers have to claim social security benefits, because they earn so little that they can't feed their families.

"Some have even killed themselves because they couldn't feed their families on the money they earn."

Such frustration has now boiled over into the threats of violence by the Crav, made in a video message sent to France's new President, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Shots fired

In the video - shot in a secret location late at night - seven wine-makers, their faces hidden by black balaclavas, read out the spine-chilling warning that "blood will flow" if Nicolas Sarkozy does not act fast to raise the price of wine.

Wine bottles (generic)
Foreign wine has been targeted in attacks by Crav

The group has proved that it is prepared to use violence to achieve its aims.

Already, several local supermarkets selling foreign wines have been attacked with small explosive devices, with others graffitied with the Crav's initials.

The group has also shot at and hijacked at least one lorry containing wine from abroad - and the fear is that the attacks could escalate unless the government responds to the group's demands, which it so far has not.

Jean-Francois Picquemal runs one of the supermarkets that was graffitied, even though he says it only sells wine from the area.

"There've been similar attacks throughout the region, and this was one of the nicer ones," he says.

"I think the wine-makers are upset with the middle-men who don't pay them enough for their wine.

"But at least this was only graffiti - it wasn't too bad. I think all this might get worse.

"I know a lot of wine makers, I'm from this region, and it's a very difficult situation for them."

The new 'Resistance'

France 3 television journalist Emilien Jubineau was taken in the darkest hours of the night to a remote location to witness the Crav's threatening video message being made.

Vineyard in Languedoc
France's famed wine industry is feeling pressure from foreign producers

He believes the group is in deadly earnest.

"It's not that they're necessarily dangerous people but these wine makers are extremely angry - they're desperate," he believes.

"The Crav may have done things that people might condemn but they've been very careful not to injure anyone so far.

"Their attacks have sent a very strong signal: what they want is for the government to talk to them about a real solution."

Sympathy with the cause

The solution Brussels has put forward is for producers to grub up 200,000 hectares of wine - much of it in the Languedoc - because the region is producing much more wine than it can sell in a fiercely competitive global market.

Jean-Marc Ribet
Wine-makers in the region are not being heard so they feel they have to speak louder
Jean-Marc Ribet
quality wine-producer

But the Crav say they will fight that idea every step of the way - just as the French Resistance in the south once fought the Nazis.

And even wine-makers not involved with the group say they share many of its frustrations, even if they do not agree with the threat of violence.

Jean-Marc Ribet of Chateau de la Vernede, which produces high-quality wine mainly for the export market, says supermarkets and restaurants are making huge profits at wine-producers' expense, often buying wine at one euro (0.67; $1.33) a litre and selling it on for 15 euros a litre.

"Normally, the Crav would not exist if people were being heard, but wine-makers in the region are not being heard so they feel they have to speak louder so that the government listens."

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