Situation ‘uncontrollable’ as winemakers go on rampage in southern France

Disenchanted winemakers attacked police vehicles, wine tankers and négociants yesterday in a further attempt to elicit financial help from the government.

Over 100 winemakers, masked and armed with crowbars and sledgehammers, began the day by descending on a wine depot in the Mediterranean port of Sète.

The group attacked an Italian wine tanker and emptied its contents, several thousand litres of Italian wine, onto the tarmac.

More wine was spilled shortly after when the winemakers stormed La Navale Française – another négociant in Sète and a previous target for attacks by the militant group CRAV (Regional Committee for Viticultural Action). Several thousand hectolitres of wine were sent gushing out of opened vats, flooding the quayside before the demonstrators took to the roads.

The winemakers formed a rolling roadblock on the A9 motorway between Montpellier and Béziers and attacked police vehicles, including a motorcycle, with sledgehammers. One police van was set alight. No police officers were hurt.

The group then overran a motorway tollgate, giving free passage to all motorists. They also opened the valves on three Spanish wine tankers headed for Burgundy.

‘It’s not vandalism, it’s defence,’ said one winemaker.

The situation was eventually brought under control by the police.

The French agriculture minister, Dominique Bussereau, condemned the winemakers’ actions as ‘unacceptable’, although he did recognise their ‘distress’.

‘Winemakers are in despair. It’s serious. The situation has become uncontrollable,’ said Jean Huillet, head of the Hérault wine cooperative.

Although the recent actions of militant winemakers in the south of France are mainly concerned with speeding up the arrival of state aid, Huillet also attacked the ‘growing wealth of the négociants’ and the ‘supermarkets which, for the most part, are shamelessly strangling us’.

Written by Oliver Styles