French News Archive

French Life

French Oppose European Wine Shake-Up

Monday 16 July 2007

A major shake-up of the European wine industry has been proposed by the EU Commission, which promises to meet stiff resistance from the French government.

Although the proposal by the Commission to grub up around 6% (200,000 hectares) of vineyards across the European Union has been widely reported in the international press, it is the proposals by the Commission to throw away much of the rulebook on wine production that has enraged many wine producers and the French government.

The Commission argues that, whilst wine consumption is growing worldwide, the level of wine exports from the EU has not been increasing at the same rate, and wine imports from the New World have been increasing.

It places blame for this state of affairs on a failure of the European wine industry to adopt more modern production and marketing techniques.

Not only is Europe producing too much wine, it is producing too much of inferior quality, the labelling of wines is too complicated and there are far too many restrictions on producers.

Although it refuses to point the finger, foremost in the firing line for outdated techniques is France, a country with a highly regulated system of wine production, with strong controls on yields, the choice of grape varieties, a strong link with terroir (especially for French wines) and an artisanal approach to vineyard management and wine production.

The EU is trying to sweep away much of this approach towards a more industrial method of wine production, which focuses more on the quality of the end product than the process itself. It also proposes a more uniform and simpler approach to labelling across Europe, something that is in stark contrast to the approach in France, which has a bewildering array of wine labels and categories.

One of the other notable proposals is to abolish the use of sugar to assist in the fermentation process, on the basis that if the climate in the area is not good enough to make wine without adding sugar, then other crops should be produced. This is a proposal that will also have implications for wine producers in the UK and other Northern regions, many of whom use sugar in the production process.

The EU also proposes to end subsidies towards the crisis distillation of surplus wines, which each year costs around €500 million. In future, if governments wish to support wine producers by turning their grapes into industrial alcohol, they will have to do so from national resources.

Whilst the French Government has indicated its broad support for the objectives of the EU proposals, it has also made it clear that it does not agree with the specifics. In particular, it is baulking at any major relaxation of growing and production methods, and considers that any grubbing up of vineyards should be temporary and reversable.

The French do not seem to be alone in their criticism of the proposals, so a lively debate can be expected over the coming months!

Thank you for showing an interest in our News section.

Our News section is no longer being published although our catalogue of articles remains in place.

If you found our News useful, please have a look at France Insider, our subscription based News service with in-depth analysis, or our authoritative Guides to France.

If you require advice and assistance with the purchase of French property and moving to France, then take a look at the France Insider Property Clinic.