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Bordeaux winemakers protest and seek aid to pull up vines

Bordeaux winemakers marched through the city’s streets this week to highlight their precarious financial position and call for state funding to pull up vineyards, as figures suggest French consumers continue to drink less red wine.

Bordeaux winemakers launched a large protest earlier this week to renew calls for state help, notably a subsidised scheme to pull up vines, as part of a social plan to help growers.

Those marching through the city’s streets sought to highlight a cocktail of financial pressures facing winemakers.

While Bordeaux is best-known as the home of major châteaux, there are thousands of winemakers across the region. Bordeaux’s wine bureau, the CIVB, has warned some growers are in ‘great economic difficulty’.

It cited ‘structural’ and ‘cyclical’ issues, from higher costs and the impact of Covid to falling red wine consumption in France and recent difficulties in reaching key export markets.

Winemakers have also seen extreme weather events, including frost, mildew and hail, impact production in recent vintages.

‘To date, it is estimated that approximately 10,000 hectares should be permanently uprooted in Bordeaux,’ said Christophe Chateau, communication manager for the CIVB.

‘For the record, Bordeaux has 108,000 hectares and is the largest AOC vineyard in France. The French government (and regional institutions) are therefore being asked to subsidise this measure,’ he said via an email statement.

‘The CIVB supports the objectives defended by this collective of winegrowers. Elected officials of the CIVB, including Bernard Farges, vice-president, participated in the demonstration.’

A funded scheme to uproot vines would particularly aid winemakers on the brink of retirement and with no prospect of selling their estates, the CIVB added.

It said winemakers and merchants in Bordeaux remained confident for the future, and highlighted activity taking place, from efforts to make vineyards more sustainable to building export markets. Bordeaux wine exports rose by 9% in volume and 30% in value globally in 2021.

French media said a ‘crisis’ group will be convened by Bordeaux regional officials to look at what help can be offered to producers under financial pressure.

Alain Rousset, president of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region that encompasses Bordeaux, told protesters he supported efforts to develop a funded social plan, but any subsidies to pull up vines would require talks between the French government and European Commission, according to Sud-Ouest newspaper.

A recent investigation by the RTL publication suggested red wine consumption dropped 32% in France between 2011 and 2021.

Falling consumption has vexed France’s wine sector for many years, and has put increased emphasis on efforts to refocus on quality, as well as export markets.

Wine consumption in France has halved since 1960, the CIVB said, although the country still drinks a relatively large 46.9 litres per capita, according to recent data from the International Organisation for Vine & Wine (OIV).

Offering winemakers compensation to ‘grub up’ vines either to replant or reduce production is not a new strategy.

The European Commission previously ran a subsidised, EU-wide scheme to allow winemakers to ‘grub up’ vines and restructure vineyards, as part of wider reforms to the bloc’s wine market.


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