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French wine industry braces itself

The French wine industry is preparing for a tense weekend as the General Assembly in Paris continues to debate its controversial healthcare bill.

The Assembly was meant to vote today on the bill, which includes several amendments that directly affect wine. But the discussions are expected to continue through the weekend.

Of particular concern to winemakers is article 24, an amendment to ‘ban all free distribution of alcoholic drinks in a promotional capacity’. Aimed at stopping open bars for the under-25s, it doesn’t distinguish among types of alcohol and it would effectively ban free wine tastings at chateaux, wine fairs and events such as ‘en primeur’ week.

Also at issue is article 23, which addresses the advertising of wine on the internet, including links to wine sites. Due to fears of over-zealous application of the Evin Law (which addresses advertising specifically), major internet providers such as Orange already have refused advertising from wine producers and retailers.

There may be some some good news for the wine industry, however.

Health minister Roselyne Bachelot said yesterday that she never intended to ban all tastings or traditional wine festivals because ‘they are a vital part of French wine culture’.

‘There are positive signs that we have succeeded in securing free wine tastings in a professional context,’ Marie Christine Tarby of wine lobbying group Vin et Societe told decanter.com .

‘But the prohibitionists are now concentrating all their efforts on the internet. Noone’s going to get much sleep this weekend.’

In a further boost to the industry, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research plans to release on 11 March a 25-year study of 100,000 people that shows moderate consumption of one to three glasses of wine a day reduces the incidence of certain cancers.

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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