French government unveils sweeping changes to wine sector

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  • Friday 30 May 2008

The French government unveiled its five-year wine industry modernisation plan last night, hoping to improve the country’s competitiveness.

The 16-page plan, which aims to reduce complex regulations preventing French winemakers from competing with New World producers, was widely accepted by the sector. The plan also falls in line with recent EU reforms.

French wines will now fall into one of three categories, with the first being the new Vignobles de France, or Wines of France, label, replacing vin de table wines.

These will carry both the grape variety and the year on the label, and be made using many cheaper winemaking techniques already adopted by the New World, including the use of oak chips, the addition of tannins and sorbic acid as a preservative, and sweetening using concentrated grape juice must.

The two other new categories are IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée, or Protected Geographical Region) which will replace vin de pays, and the AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) which corresponds to the existing AOC category.

Georges Malpel, head of the French governmental body responsible for fruit, vegetables, wine and hoticulture (Viniflhor), told decanter.com the plan was to, ‘keep tradition in place and at the same time gear the sector towards mass production’.

However, the plans were overshadowed by the French government’s failure to address the issue of legalising wine sales on the internet. The only mention of the internet in the plan was the proposal to establish a working group to study the issue, a move deemed next to useless by wine professionals.

‘It is impossible to talk of conquering markets or being competitive if at the same time we no longer have access to modern means of communication,’ said Pierre Menez, president of the French wine merchants association (AGEV).

Others organisations including the French producers union, the Comité des Interprofessions des Vins à Appellation d’Origine (CNIV), and the Vin et Société association, currently battling to have the internet officially approved as a medium for alcohol publicity, have also condemned the failure of the plan to address the issue.

‘It is not worth modernising the wine sector if nothing is done about this problem,’ said CNIV president Jean-Louis Salies.

However Malpel said Viniflhor, as a government body, could not oppose the government’s plans.

‘Unfortunately, this is going to become a judgement between the public health lobby and the wine sector itself,’ he said.

The question over the legality of wine on the web in France dates back to a court case taken last February against beer giant Heineken, widely understood to have outlawed the internet as a means of communication for all alcoholic drinks in France.

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