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Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK
French wine-makers snub American invaders
Ripe grapes in a Languedoc vineyard
Sour grapes: US is muscling in on French firms
By Jon Sopel in Languedoc, South of France

There is a stiff breeze blowing through the Languedoc wine region.

However, it is not the Mistral that normally hits this part of the coastal plain in Southern France.


It is blowing in from the United States where one of the world's biggest multinational wine producers wants to set up shop.

Locals fear that this move will shake things up.

Samuel Guibert's family run Daumas Gassac vineyard.

It is one of the larger producers in the area, but is a minnow compared to Robert Mondavi, the Californian winemaker, which is moving in next door.

Samuel Guilbert: We don't really want to become one big huge vineyard
Samuel Guilbert: "We don't really want to become one big huge vineyard"
They worry that centuries-old methods of making wine will be crushed by soulless mass production.

"We don't really want to become one big, huge vineyard," he explains.

"We have the luck of having a region which is basically living with little and small winemakers and vineyards."

Winemakers fear ruin


Multinationals are not here to be nice and make us happy or put a village on the map. They're here to make money

Marcel Touget, Protester
We drove up a bumpy track to the site where Mondavi are going to build their huge vineyard.

Plans to raze a forest to the ground have upset local ecologists, hunters and political groups across the political spectrum.

Their leader, Marcel Touget, said: "It will be the destruction of the wine co-operative.

"It's the ruin of the small wine growers, because multinationals are not here to be nice and make us happy or put a village on the map. They're here to make money."

Protesters register their anger with Mondavi on a sign
Protesters register their anger with Mondavi on a sign
David Pearson, the man from Mondavi, is playing it cool.

He said his company plans to make a French style wine, not new world.

Production will be limited, and far from driving people out of business, they intend to create jobs.

"They seem to be portraying our project as the big, bad multinational American company coming over to destroy the social fabric," he argues.

"In fact, it is the exact opposite of that. What we're coming over to do is to produce a wine - very high quality - and to learn from them to produce a wine of old-world quality and old world-style."

Pearson: Mondavi want to produce old-world wine in the old-world style
David Pearson: "Mondavi want to produce old-world wine in the old-world style"
However, in a country paranoid about multi-nationals, one has to doubt whether any assurance would suffice.

In some ways, the Languedoc wine region is a victim of its own success.

For years, its wines were criticised, but now that they have become fashionable, the Americans want to buy in.

The trouble is that local people believe their way of life will be put in jeopardy.

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See also:

30 Jun 00 | Europe
France's farm crusader
16 Sep 99 | Europe
Chirac slams US food domination
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