A committee in the French Senate declared the obvious this week in adding an amendment that would make wine an official part of French heritage.
Cries of “um, duh!” could be heard in the land that makes some of the best wines in the world today and up until fifty years ago had a per capita consumption of 100 liters per person.
That it has come to this underscores the threats the wine industry faces abroad but particularly at home. Overseas, French wine has lost market share in the US to new world producers (although, at the high end, the mindshare remains huge). But at home, wine has come under threat from advertising restrictions, tougher laws against drunken driving, an ascendent force that sees wine/alcohol as a public health problem, a proposal to raise the tax on wine 1,000%, and truly nutty proposals to bar media discussion of health benefits of wine and a ban on talking about wine on the internet! So, in light of these domestic developments, such a declaration by the senate becomes more understandable as it gives the wine industry to something they can use to bolster their position.
We wish them bonne chance. But perhaps the best thing we could do for them is take a sip of the heritage and say santé! (Or, wait, is it not healthy…?)
Should a grape grower who practices organic viticulture be forced to spray pesticide? In the face of a bacterial malady hitting vineyards in France, the Ministry of Agriculture has decided the answer is yes.
And the New York Times editorial page is on it. Well, on it four days ago when I was under a snow bank.
INRA, the French state research institute for agriculture, has a very good page (en anglais) on the “highly contagious” and “incurable” bacterial disease called flavescence dorée (aka FD or yellowing disease). Transmitted by the leafhopper (Scaphoideus titanus), it has been affecting vines in France (and elsewhere) since the 1950s. The leaves yellow, the grapes shrivel, and the crop for that plant is lost. Forever. It can be difficult to detect, hence the directive that requires the spraying of Pyrevert, a pyrethrin pesticide.
Emmanuel Giboulot, an organic grower in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, is facing a 30,000 euro fine and six months in jail if he doesn’t spray his vines that so far haven’t shown any signs of FD. A Facebook support page for Giboulot popped up appeared and now has almost 35,000 likes.
The Times argues that “The law requiring such use in Burgundy is not only bad policy, it is terrible publicity for French wine.” While the policy question is a tough one, there’s no denying that it is horrible PR for French wine. Certainly other countries have FD and may mandate spraying as well but they have not been put under the spotlight. Probably because their authorities haven’t threatened to lock up the dissenters.
The growers in the Sancerre AOC are more pissed off than pipi du chat. According to Jim Budd, their hackles have been raised because the national appellation bureau is closing their Sancerre outpost and centralizing regional functions in Tours, about 120 miles away from Sancerre. Jim says the growers find the situation so frustrating that they have talked to intellectual property experts about withdrawing from the AOC framework and using Sancerre as a trademark.
For all (both?) of the wine law buffs among us, this would present a sticky situation. INAO, the regulatory authority, is zealous in defending their geographic indications against FOREIGN transgressions and imitators. But what if a bunch of growers effectively withdrew from the AOC system and wanted to take the name with them. Sancerre has huge name recognition so the stakes are high–it will be fascinating to watch how this plays out. Perhaps it is bargaining to get their local office back but the growers’ frustration may lie deeper than that.
It’s the latest evidence that the AOC system is broken.
This is what a wine trade group in France foresees on wine labels. Did you miss which country this is? FRANCE. You know, the country that might as well be the first child of Bacchus, a land that’s been growing vines since the Gauls were in charge, where kids in black and white photos carry flagons of wine and baguettes.
Earlier this year, we discussed the upbeat report entitled “Damage related to addictions and strategies for reducing the damage.” Among other things it recommended banning writing about wine on the internet. It doesn’t even take 140 characters to point out that this is both dunderheaded and unenforceable. According to a piece on La Revue de Vin de France, efforts to limit discussion and promotion of wine in France are growing and may come to a head later this year as an update to the 1991 Evin Law.
A trade group representing wine and spirits professionals in France just went live at www.cequivavraimentsaoulerlesfrancais.fr. Let’s hope they can harness the power of the internet to oppose the new possible measures on taxation, labeling and criticism — before prohibitions about discussing wine online are enacted.
Stephen Erlanger, the Paris bureau chief of the NY Times, holds forth on the notion of terroir in the opinion page.
The concept is fascinating for its power to readjust markets along quality lines for products that might be prone to commoditization (hmm, I recall reading a brilliant book about this somewhere. . .). It’s clearly political since lines have to be drawn somewhere and those outside the zone might even stage bloody protests, as happened in Champagne 100 years ago, for example. The idea could be interpreted as conservative since it contributes to propping up a rural, yeoman sort of life.
But Erlanger overreaches when he writes that “The notion of terroir is essentially political, at heart a conservative, even right-wing idea.” There’s nothing right-wing about it: I haven’t heard Marine Le Pen on the stump arguing for the AOC by saying, “Long live Volnay! Down with vin de table!”
Although terroir is a powerful concept, it has limitations administratively as the AOC system has shown. Also, it’s not the only way to signal quality or even protect quality, as a company brand (estate name) can often serve as a better indicator of quality than simply reading the place name. Also, if you’re looking for a product that’s made in a certain way–Biodynamically grown, fair-trade certified–there are tons of organizations that offer third-party certifications that have little or nothing to do with terroir.
Erlanger concludes his piece with a doozy: “The preservation of terroir is finally a kind of unwritten conspiracy between the farmers and the wealthy, as well as the bourgeois bohemians of the big cities, who will pay more for quality, for freshness, for artisanal craft and for that undefinable authenticity that is the essence of terroir.”
Ah, bourgeois bohemians–I thought David Brooks had his own space on the op-ed page? But, really, a “conspiracy”? Sorry, but I didn’t know that tin-foil hats came in AOC styles.
Factions in France, a country whose national image has historically been intertwined with wine, are waging a bizarre campaign against wine. They opened a new front in their battle last week: trying to ban blogs and social media from talking about wine.
The initiative, part of a report from Professor Michel Reynaud with the cheery name “Damage related to addictions and strategies for reducing the damage,” would seek to limit promotion of wine in the internet, extending and updating the 1991 Evin law. Winery websites would be exempt but Decanter has a summary; the full report is available in full as pdf here.
“We need to formally ensure that no media about alcohol can be aimed at young people, or potentially seen by young people, including the internet (except producer sites) and social networks,” Reynaud writes on p. 56.
Clearly, this is absurd. Not being able to discuss wine at all also means not being able to discuss how to consume wine in moderation or with food. Or its role in history, culture and economics. Or its plant biology, making it a forbidden fruit. The report is out of step with discussion on the internet, unenforceable, and is as boneheaded as it is blunt in its proposals.
Fortunately, an effort with a petition has emerged, called “Touche Pas a Mon Vingernon.”
Another symbol of France–wine–is being threatened with a 1,000% tax increase. Will riots break out across the country?
Who is the man with a set of grapes big enough to dare provoke the ire of the French winegrowers and wine consumers? It’s Yves Daudigny, a socialist senator from Aisne (“The Fightin’ Aisne”) in Picardie. I bet they don’t even make wine in Picardie! Wait, what’s that, Jimmy? Champagne is partially in Aisne, Senator Daudigny’s district? Okay, scratch that.
The Senator is clearly a tough nut to crack. Last year he proposed a 300% tax on palm oil in what was dubbed the “Nutella tax.” Mmm, taxes so high you can spread them on your bread in the morning.
Now he’s unleashing his tax machine on the wine industry, proposing to raise the tax from three euro cents to €0.30-€0.60 a bottle! This would bring it inline with beer and spirits. But we all know that beer and spirits deserve that tax. Was there ever a black and white photograph of a child toting a six-pack and a bottle of Johnny Walker under his arm? Non, monsieur!
Senator Daudigny, taxing wine in France is like taxing being French! It’s un-French to even consider it! Moreover, why would you want people to drink less wine? The wine industry is struggling because French people are not drinking enough of the stuff. If you really want a radical reform, try uncorking a take-your-wine-to-work day. Or Hug a Vigneron day. Or how about a subsidy for French wine? It’s already so expensive that people in Hong Kong are bidding bottles to stratospheric levels! Or subsidize hipster wines from the Jura or the Loire to jumpstart exports to Williamsburg and San Francisco.
Don’t make the winegrowers stage protests outside your office with pitchforks and corkscrews!
Over the past month, a refugee tried to sell assets in his home country, bought a tiny house in a neighboring country, and took a passport from a third. It was none other than bon vivant Gerard Depardieu, who fled France, listed his $65 million Paris apartment, bought a house in Belgium a stone’s throw from the French border, and then received a Russian passport two days ago from Putin (wonder what they uncorked? Putin is a teetotaler.). Depardieu is fleeing a possible 75% tax on incomes above 1 million euros in France (though the proposal got struck down by the high court and its fate is unknown).
There is a slight wine angle to all this. Depardieu has said he could drink five bottles of wine a day, so wherever he goes, there may be a bump in the consumption figures. Seriously, will this naturalized citizen be a wine ambassador to Russia (even culturally, assuming he’s not around too much)? Depardieu owns Chateau Tigné in Anjou and is involved in several other wine projects with Bernard Magrez and Michel Rolland. Incidentally, in a lengthy interview with Decanter in 2009, he professed to being an Italophile, saying “I love Italian culture.” But, seemingly, not their tax rate either.
What do you think of his actions: treasonable or reasonable?