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Nearly a million acres of vineyard targeted for uprooting

translated by Henry Crapo

Translated Monday 5 June 2006, by Henry Crapo

Agriculture: The European Commission in Brussels refuses any move toward distillation susceptible of curing the ills of the European wine market

A decision awaited for months by many French winegrowers, the green light by the European Union for a "distillation" of the crisis in the wine market, has still not been obtained. This temporary measure would have brought a bit of health back into the market, currently hit by a severe drop in prices. Meanwhile, a plan by the European commissioner for Agriculture, Mariann Fischer Boel, is the subject of cleverly "distilled" leaks. It aims to destroy, in truly anarchic fashion, a major portion of the European vineyard (990,000 acres, or the equivalent of half of the French plantations), eliminating those producers who are in difficulty, including, and especially so, those in the quality sector.

This Machiavellian plan offers grants for uprooting vines, open for five years, but progressively scaled down, that is, more profitable during the first year, less so thereafter. The Commission is thus playing with timing in order to make the situation worse, and the French government issues only mild protests.

Wine growing being an economic activity strongly dependent on unpredictable meteorological factors, distillation offers a pertinent measure. This "reform" project brutally suppresses it. The Commission thinks that in this way it will accelerate the restructuring of the market, led by capitalist enterprises, among whom figure the major alcohol producers, who plant their vines in countries around the world. Of course, uprooting vines is not the only measure advanced in discussion. The Commission also launches an insidious attack on the system of controls labelling by origin ("appellations d’origine controlée" or AOC), put in place over many decades with a view to improving wine quality. In its place, the project put forward by the commissioner for Agriculture establishes "two classes of wines": one without geographic specification, the other with. Among the latter would be wines with protected geographic indications (IGP) and those with protected names of origin (AOP). This simplification fills the requirements of the major groups specializing in wine marketing, but not to the expectations of consumers looking for more precise information. With this project, wine will become a standardized product, made more ordinary in order to compete with wines from the southern hemisphere. The door will be open to all sorts of traffics and frauds, which the robbers have never renounced in their search for profits, to the detriment of quality.

published in l’Humanité 30 May, page 7

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