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Beaujolais producers win libel damages

A French magazine has been ordered to pay more than a quarter of a million euros in damages to Beaujolais producers after reporting their wine had been described as merde.

The High Court in Villefranche-sur-Saône, north of Lyon, upheld a libel suit brought by 56 wine co-operatives from the Beaujolais region, UK broadsheet The Times reports.

The producers claimed the magazine had denigrated the wine by quoting François Mauss, president of the Grand Jury of European Wine Tasters, as saying ‘C’est un vin de merde.’

His comments were published in the regional magazine ‘Lyon Mag’, appearing last summer when Beaujolais producers were seeking €7m (£4.6m) in state subsidies to turn 100,000 hectolitres of unsold wine into vinegar.

Asked to comment on the unsold Beaujolais, Mauss told the magazine it was because of the poor quality of much of the wine. ‘It’s not proper wine, but rather a sort of lightly fermented and alcoholic fruit juice,’ he said. ‘A wine should have a certain finesse…but we don’t find that in 80% of Beaujolais.’

Representing the Beaujolais producers, Maitre Chantel Pegaz described M Mauss’s language as ‘intolerable’.

She was backed by the High Court which said, ‘By comparing Beaujolais to excrement, François Mauss and the journalist who interviewed him have gone beyond the acceptable exercise of their respective social roles of criticism – even severe criticism.’

It ordered the magazine to pay €254,143 (£166,818) in damages to the 56 co-operatives and set aside a further €60,000 (£40,000) to cover the cost of publishing the ruling in six different places.

Editor Lionel Favrot said he would be appealing against the verdict. ‘It means Beaujolais is effectively above criticism in France, ‘he said. ‘This is unreasonable.’

A representative of Beaujolais producers was quoted in the newspaper defending the wine.

Written by Liz Hughes13 January 2003

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