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France must adapt to survive: minister

French wines must be offered in two distinct categories – premium and basic level – in order to make it as easy as possible for the consumer to understand them, the French agriculture minister said on Sunday.

Speaking at the opening of the Vinexpo trade fair in Bordeaux, agriculture minister Dominique Bussereau said ’the crux of the matter’ was to ‘clarify and simplify’ the French offer.

To this end, he said, the two major regulatory bodies, the INAO and ONIVINS, had been working together on a joint proposal to segment the offer of French wines on the market into two categories.

‘On the one hand, the wines that have a strong link with a specific region or terroir. On the other, the products that will respond more quickly to changes in the market and meet the needs of different categories of consumer.’

In a speech which made no bones about the ‘great threat’ to France’s position as market leader – ‘10% of wine estates are in difficulty’ – Bussereau announced a raft of new measures to deal with the problems facing the French wine industry.

‘The French government has obtained exceptional dispensations from the European Union, especially with regard to distillation. But to face the serious difficulties in the market today we are also putting in place important short term measures regarding AOC wines.’

There will be a recommendation that plantings be reduced by 25% compared with last year, and by 75% compared with 20001/2002.

‘This measure will apply to appellations which are growing rather than those that have already applied for the right to put in place measures to control production such as distillation or bonuses for grubbing up new vines,’ Bussereau said.

Finally, the minister said, the government would be asking regional trade bodies throughout France to present ‘a solid strategy’ outlining how it plans to adapt to AOC, vin de pays or vin de table market – that is, how it will deal with the necessity to offer wine in two distinct market segments.

There was laughter as he finished his speech by suggesting the French ‘No’ vote could make the job of liaising with Brussels even more difficult.

He said the French government will do its utmost to obtain favourable measures from Brussels as a result of the No vote against the European constitution on 29 May, but there is a strong feeling such commitments would be tough to negotiate in the new climate.

Written by Adam Lechmere in Bordeaux

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