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Wrath of CRAV wine ‘commandos’ stokes tension in south of France

Anger over cheap Spanish wine imports in southern France is in danger of getting out of control, says a local union leader who criticised this week's arson attack on a leading wine company in Languedoc. By Yohan Castaing with extra reporting by Chris Mercer.

Union chief Frédéric Rouanet warned that there could be more attacks by the French wine commando group CRAV in Languedoc-Roussillon as tension rises over a perceived influx of Spanish wine.

‘I think there is a lot of wrath in the vineyard,’ Rouanet told Decanter.com. ‘It will be difficult to control the guys if the situation remains the same.’

But, Rouanet distanced himself from the 30 masked wine militants who this week ransacked and set fire to the offices of Sudvin, a bulk wine company based in Languedoc and owned by Vinadeis.

The group claimed allegiance to the Comité Régionale d’Action Viticole – known as CRAV.

‘As president of Aude winemakers’ union, I can’t accept this kind of method,’ Rouanet said of this week’s attack.

Vinadeis said it was shocked by the attack. It employs hundreds of winemakers and has vineyards across Languedoc.

‘Vinadeis is a scapegoat,’ Rouanet said. ‘The problem is two-fold: first, the supermarkets and hypermarket chains propose entry level wine at low prices and wine merchants need to find some cheap wine.

‘They have to source in Spain because wine is under 35 euros per hectolitre, while in France Vin de Table is approximately at 75 euros per hectolitre.

‘Second, the [EU] common agricultural policy is not good for us. We do not have the same taxes as Spanish vine growers. For example, a Spanish vine grower earns almost 1,700 euros per hectare. You think you can live with that?’

In video footage of this week’s attack at Sudvin, militants complained that the wine tanks were full in Languedoc just weeks before harvest. They blamed cheap imports.

Critics say that winemakers must accept competition, and point to EU single market rules. It is not illegal for French merchants and retailers to buy in Spanish wine if properly labelled.

Earlier this year, protesters hijacked a lorry carring Spanish wine into France.

The situation was complicated by a fraud investigation that recently found an as-yet-unnamed merchant in Languedoc passing off Spanish wine as French table wine.

There have also been rumours of Spanish producers importing cheap wine from Chile and sending it on to France, though this has never been proven and it is a theory derided by some experts.

Rouanet said that, although he condemned the violence this week, he had his suspicions about Spanish wine. He said that he met French agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll and prime minister Manual Valls to request an inspection of Spanish soil to verify the source of Spanish wines found in France.

He said, ‘I’ve seen pictures where Spanish wineries were guarded by armed men. If they had done nothing wrong, why use gunmen?’

Few in Languedoc were willing to speak about the latest CRAV action.

One winemaker who did not wish to be named said, ‘If I speak about this, they might burn my car or my house.’

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