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‘Cronyist’ CIVB to be sued by breakaway group

The CIVB is ineffectual and riven by cronyism, a breakaway group of producers said last night as it announced plans to sue.

CIVB headquarters, Bordeaux

During heated exchanges at a ‘call to arms’ press conference, the Comité d’Action des Vignerons de Bordeaux (CAVB), said it would sue the Bordeaux generic trade body for five years of subscription fees that they feel have been wasted.

The CAVB said it would challenge the legality of the membership fee (‘cotisations’) that all Bordeaux winemakers (and negociants) are required to pay each year to the CIVB, and that can amount to tens of thousands of euros.

A legal challenge is planned for January 2011.

The meeting became increasingly heated, with CAVB acting president Dominique Techer denying members of the CIVB present the right to answer.

‘The CIVB has all day to talk. They are rich on our money, and they have lines of communication that are not open to us. This is not a forum for them to speak.’

Techer, owner of Château Gombaude-Guillot and Clos Plince in Pomerol, told Decanter.com the decision to begin a legal challenge was taken only after all other avenues had been exhausted.

‘The CIVB can’t continue in the current format, it has had its day. We have repeatedly asked for clarity on how they spend our money, but we are denied access to detailed accounts.

‘The CIVB serves a small group of cronies. They won’t reform, and they don’t listen to the winemakers, even though our compulsory membership fees makes up 75% of their budget.’

Speaking at the press conference, lawyer Frederic Georges explained that CAVB would be using a 2004 European Union ruling that any non-voluntary payment should be subject to the same fiscal rules as a tax.

‘This is an imposed means of financing, and yet unlike taxes there is no transparency. The CIVB is supposed to work for the benefit of those who compulsorily support it financially. Yet an increasing number of its members feel it is not working in their interests. They are looking for a divorce, and where there is a divorce, there’s a lawyer’.

Sylvie Verdier of Chateau Bessan in the Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux explained that the intention was not to set up a rival group to the CIVB, but rather to get it to change the way it works.

‘Our president has a Pomerol wine estate, and yet he is in difficulty. This tells you just how widespread the malaise is throughout Bordeaux. The CIVB is the very heart of Bordeaux, and yet has failed in its two key missions: the regulation of the market, and the promotion of our wines.’

Georges Haushalter, wine merchant and president of the CIVB, defended the council’s record, telling AFP agency that it had spent the past five years focusing the budget on supporting wines that sell for less than €15 a bottle and that ‘allow the sector to make a respectable living.’

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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