Winemakers in southern France have threatened to 'block' the Tour de France 2016 when it passes through their region, in protest at a sponsorship deal between competition organisers and a Chilean wine brand.
Chilean wine group Cono Sur, which produces the Bicicleta label, is an official Tour de France sponsor until after the 2017 event.
But, winemakers in the Aude area of Languedoc-Roussillon called the deal ‘absurd’ and said they were angry that competition organiser Amaury Sport chose a foreign wine partner.
Plan to ‘disrupt’ the Tour de France
The Aude winemakers’ union plans ‘to disrupt the Tour de France’, according to union president Frédéric Rouanet. Stage 11 of the Tour is this year set to pass between Carcassonne and Montpellier through the heart of Languedoc.
‘We have no contact with Amaury Sport and we feel very strongly about this issue,’ said Rouanet. ‘We intend to block the Tour de France at strategic steps if a French wine is not chosen to represent this cycling event, the emblem of France.’
Although the Chilean deal was signed in early 2015, Rouanet told Decanter.com that the union only became aware of it ‘a few weeks ago via the national press’.
He added, ‘A lot of winemakers are ready to jump in to promote French wine.’
French marketing rules won’t allow wine sponsor in France
However, France’s Evin Law on alcohol marketing means that no wine brand can be promoted during sports events in the country.
Cono Sur’s Bicicleta can only partner with the Tour de France on its foreign stages, which will be in Spain and Switzerland this year. Any French wine sponsor would face the same problem.
At the time of signing the sponsorship deal, Christian Prudhomme, then director of the Tour de France, said that the event ‘has deep European roots, like the vineyard, but it is constantly gaining new lands’.
Languedoc-Roussillon is home to the militant winemaker group CRAV, or ‘regional winemakers’ action committee’, whose balaclava-clad members have intermittently attacked foreign wine installations in the area over the past few decades.
Cono Sur is a subsidiary of Chilean wine firm Concha y Toro.
Editing by Chris Mercer