Saturday, May 9, 2009

In Which French Winemakers Act, Well, French

. Saturday, May 9, 2009

My previous post was about how large agri-business conglomerates capture much of the E.U.'s (and U.S.'s) farm subsidies. But common farmers and vintners get some too. And when you've been capturing rents for generations, being forced to give them up is a bitter pill.

Mr. Jeune, along with most French winemakers, opposes European Union plans to relax strict rules governing the making of rosé, or blush, wines just as they are starting to gain respect — and sales. Currently, red grapes are usually crushed and left to ferment briefly with the skins, the two being separated before the juice colors fully. The E.U. proposal would allow Europeans to simply blend red and white wine to create a pink blend — giving them the freedom to adopt the same, less complex, methods as New World producers.

“If you do this, why not allow people to make wine without any grapes at all?” Mr. Jeune asks, growing steadily more voluble over a glass of his own — “real” — rosé, from grapes grown in Provence. “You could do it in a laboratory, with alcohol, water, artificial flavors.”...

Though the French government seemed to go along with the blending proposal in January, it has since sought to block the measure after a backlash in the countryside. Because of its resistance, a final E.U. vote has just been deferred until June.

In France, a land reliant on agricultural subsidies, tiny producers with distinctive wines have a special place in national affections. Makers of the most exclusive French wines are prospering but, with competition from the New World growing, rosé is a rare midmarket success story — quite something for a product long considered inferior by wine snobs.

Yeah, yeah, I know: this all sounds very quaint. We in America often chuckle at these little squabbles. But these people are serious:

In March, La Baume winery in Languedoc suffered a bomb attack — the second in five years — and a shadowy group opposed to the “industrialization” of winemaking is blamed.

La Baume, a large winery once owned by an Australian company, Hardys, but since bought by a big French producer, Les Grands Chais de France, is seen as a symbolic target.

I suppose the message is clear: "If you don't use redistribution and government supports to protect our noble way of life from competition, then we'll blow you up, Weather Underground-style." Sounds like something Hollywood could work with, but I'd bet the noble French farmer wouldn't care much for that, either.

Speaking of films, Mondovino is a recent (last few years) documentary on the wine industries in Italy and France -- and the pressures they face from burgeoning winemakers in the Americas and elsewhere -- covers these issues very nicely. It focuses on the culture, but gets into some of the politics and economics as well. It is recommended viewing for those interested in agricultural policy, the differences between Americans and Europeans, IPE, and wine. Needless to say, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Anyway, at least some are willing to put things into perspective:

But Anne Sutra de Germa, who runs a small winery, Domaine Monplézy, and also opposes change, is more optimistic.

“In some ways it’s good to have stupid laws,” she said, “because the consumer who wants good wine will, eventually, find us.”



Benjamin Thomas Sutpen said...

I don't think this is an economic issue only. It is also one of food preference. In Europe there is a higher emphasis on traditional food (German beer laws from 1516; something called cheese actually being cheese (as in consisting of milk)...). We don't like genetically modified corn, nor do we like the idea that your meat is being tampered with massively. Quality of food especially in France is simply much more important than in the US. The farm subsidies are one thing (that I am opposed to btw) but food regulation is another.

Kindred Winecoff said...

Sense -

Had a feeling you'd chime in.

I have no problem with pickiness, nor preferences, nor tradition, nor matters of taste. I do have a problem with rent-seeking and prohibitions. Also, I said nothing of genetically-modified food; only arbitrary classifications of wine.

And don't you think that regulations *are* a form of subsidy, if the purpose is to benefit some (local) producers over others? If so, shouldn't you oppose them as well? And if that isn't the purpose, then why not just require transparency rather than make the products illegal?


In Which French Winemakers Act, Well, French




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