The Bordeaux authorities have announced they are slashing the amount of wine the region can sell in an effort to stem the deepening crisis in French wine.

In an unprecedented move the Bordeaux trade body the CIVB will limit sales to 50 hectolitres per hectare. This will reduce the amount of the 2004 vintage sold by up to a third.

Any wine remaining will be stored pending its sale as bulk wine, or until the CIVB decides conditions have improved.

France is in the middle of its greatest crisis since the 1970s – some say since the phylloxera disaster of the 1860s. The price of wine has collapsed in the last three years to almost half what it was. In the mid-1990s barrels of standard AC Bordeaux red were fetching around €1500. A 900-litre barrel now fetches around €760.

In the past 12 months exports have fallen by 9%. Thousands of the region’s producers are in financial difficulty, with threatened bankruptcies reported on a regular basis. The picture is repeated to a lesser extent across the great wine regions of France.

‘The collapse in price of some Bordeaux AOCs has reached an unacceptable level that threatens the viability of our vineyards and the unity of the industry,’ CIVB president Jean-Louis Trocard said. ‘The situation cannot continue. Everyone has to act accordingly.’

The CIVB also proposes the uprooting of hundreds of hectares of vineyards that are disused or the subject of inheritance squabbles.

The reasons for the crisis are well-documented: falling domestic consumption, France’s paralysis in the face of cheap, reliable, easy-drinking, well-marketed, understandably-labelled Australian wine. Generic Bordeaux is also dogged by accusations of falling quality.

Although they have agreed to be bound by the sales ceiling, the crisis does not affect classed-growth Bordeaux chateaux, which seldom have difficulty selling their wine. This year the five first growths have priced their 2003 vintage at double that of the 2002.

Producers affected are the main rump of generic Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur. With the price of wine plummeting below the level at which it is economic even to pick the grapes, many are resigned.

One producer in Entre-Deux-Mers said, ‘I’m not making a centime. If things carry on like this I’ll just stop. I can’t even repay my loans.’

Written by Adam Lechmere