France's Senate has stamped its official approval on what must seem obvious to many - that the country's wines and vineyards are part of its national heritage.
An image from Vin & Societe’s campaign to protect French wine
It took senators less than an afternoon in late February to agree with their colleague Roland Courteau that French wine is indeed ‘an integral part of France’s cultural and gastronomic heritage’.
Senators would have been hard-pressed to disagree with Courteau, given that UNESCO has already embraced the French gastronomic tradition – including the obligatory glass of wine – as one of the intangible features of human existence.
And yet, there is nothing naive about the motives of Courteau, a senator for the Aude area that lies at the heart of France’s largest wine producing region, Languedoc-Roussillon.
His proposal is bound up in an increasingly bitter tussle between France’s wine sector and the so-called anti-alcohol lobby, who – if one is to believe some of the hyperbole put about – would like to grub up the nation’s vineyards and forget about the whole dirty business of winemaking.
As supporters of the wine trade, Courteau and some of his allies would like to go further in the Senate by getting their colleagues to agree that wine is different from other alcoholic drinks, and especially the ‘hard’ spirits.
This, proponents believe, could help to neatly negotiate wine’s safe passage out of the Evin Law labyrinth that has precluded much advertising on alcohol in France since it was introduced in 1991.
Expect the to-ing and fro-ing to continue in 2014 as French ministers, and society in general, grapples with ‘le binge drinking’ – long derided as an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon but increasingly understood to have seeped into the heart of French cities.
Last autumn, France’s health ministry told decanter.com that there was no truth to suggestions that it planned to put stricter health warnings on wine labels or that the government will raise taxes on wine.
Its rebuttal came after wine trade lobby group Vin & Societe claimed a raft of draconian measures were close to being unfurled. In February, the group said it had 500,000 followers signed up to its online campaign, including a broad church of characters, from the mayor of Bordeaux, Alain Juppe, to three players in Montpellier’s rugby team.
French wine may have affirmed its place in the nation’s bureaucratic heart, but that is unlikely to be the end of this tale.
Written by Chris Mercer