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France: internet wine promotion outlawed as Heineken appeal fails

A French appeals court has found against brewer Heineken in a case that will see all alcohol advertising banned from French websites, decanter.com has learned.

The Paris appeals court yesterday sustained a ruling made on 8 January 2008 in which a court ruled that beer producer Heineken must remove all advertising from its French website within three weeks, or face fines of €3,000 per day.

The case referred to the draconian 1991 Evin law, which strictly regulates alcohol and tobacco advertising, and was brought to court by France’s National Association for the Prevention of Alcohol and Addiction (ANPAA).

The judge in the case, Louis-Marie Raingeard de la Blétière, found that as the internet was not named in the original list of media allowed to promote alcohol it could not do so.

Although the internet was not fully developed in 1991 when the law was passed, the law was modified in 2005. As the internet was not mentioned in the revised law, its status remains.

‘ANPAA will send out this decision to the advertising verification bureau and the association for the promotion of the press in order that they ensure that further advertising takes this ruling into account,’ said Patrick Elineau, head of ANPAA.

The ruling could have seismic implications for wine and spirits websites throughout France.

Coupled with a previous court case last December which found that positive, but independent, editorial content could be considered advertising, some commentators now believe that any form of positive commentary on wines could be outlawed.

A Paris county court ruled that an editorial piece in Le Parisien newspaper entitled ‘The Triumph of Champagne’ could be constituted as advertising even if page space had not been sold.

‘Now anyone can attack you,’ Julien Pichoff of blog site findawine.com told decanter.com. ‘All ANPAA needs to do is call up the webmaster, tell them they are promoting wines, and if you don’t shut your site down, you get taken to court. ANPAA is now the police.’

The decision has drawn condemnation from wine professionals in France.

International wine consultant Michel Rolland said, ‘There is always something a bit too brutal about these decisions. To take away the right to publicity on the internet, probably won’t help alcoholism, and it won’t help the wine market. It is not a decision I would have taken.;

And Patrick Bernard, director of Millesima, a major Bordeaux wine merchant which sells 25% of its wine over the internet, said his operation could easily move abroad.

‘It is ridiculous. In Spain they have enshrined wine as part of their constitution, as a cultural element. In France we are in the process of diabolising wine and alcohol.

‘I don’t know what this means in terms of putting a description of a wine on the web, but it is not difficult for me to move things to Malta if I have to. Or Russia. Millesima is in New York, London and Switzerland, it won’t take much for me to transfer operations.’

ANPAA could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.

Julien Pichoff’s petition

Written by Oliver Styles, and Sophie Kevany in Bordeaux

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