Francois Hollande became the first French president to visit the 34-year-old Vinexpo wine fair this week in an effort to rebuild relations with winemakers, but he also faced jibes from Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppe, a potential presidential candidate.
President Hollande used a large part of his speech at the Vinexpo 2015 opening ceremony to demonstrate that he and the French government understood the importance of wine to both France’s cultural heritage and its economy.
Around half a million jobs in France are connected to the wine trade, said Hollande. He also re-iterated the government’s plan to launch a tourism campaign later this year, adding that one third of foreign tourists choose to visit France primarily because of its food and wine heritage.
His appearance at the trade fair is a first for a French president since it was founded in 1981 and it comes at a time when relations between ministers and the French wine trade have been strained by a series of issues, including social charges and the ongoing debate around France’s Evin Law, which governs alcohol publicity.
Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppe took to the podium prior to Hollande and spoke proudly of the multi-million euro wine cultural museum due to open in Bordeaux next year, named the Cite des Civilisations du Vin.
In a thinly veiled jibe over the Evin Law and the wine industry’s perception of government’s anti-alcohol stance, Juppe said he would be delighted if the president would also formally open the Cite des Civilisations du Vin. ‘That’s if it is not the forbidden city,’ he added, in front of an array of Bordeaux chateaux owners and wine trade leaders.
Hollande retorted in his own speech that ‘balance’ must be found between the wine trade and those warning against the dangers of alcohol abuse. He said any changes to the Evin Law, as voted for by the French Parliament last week, should proceed ‘with caution’. ‘We must protect the equilibrium of the Evin Law,’ he added.
He also said that he was committed to promoting and protecting French wine appellation names beyond the European Union.
Hollande briefly toured Vinexpo after his speech, and then had lunch at a local Cave Co-operative in Bordeaux.
In an interview with Decanter.com this morning (15 June), Vinexpo chief executive Guillaume Deglise praised Hollande for visiting the show. But, he emphasised that Vinexpo was an international fair and so would not comment on French wine politics.