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‘Vin de merde’ complaint backfires

The action of the Beaujolais producers who objected to their wines being described as 'vin de merde' appears to have backfired.

At least 2,000 people have signed a protest petition, the world’s press has taken up the cause of the offending newspaper, and part of the fine has been suspended by the Court of Appeal.

The petition – available on Lyon Mag’s website – will be sent to the French parliament. As well as this, Lyon mayor Gérard Collomb has sent a letter of support, and eminent French food and wine broadcaster Jean-Pierre Coffe has lambasted the judgement and the quality of much of Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages.

Fifty-six Beaujolais cooperatives claimed Lyon-Mag, which has a circulation of 25,000, had denigrated its wine by quoting François Mauss, president of the Grand Jury of European Wine Tasters, as saying ‘C’est un vin de merde,’ in August 2002.

The High Court in Villefranche-sur-Saône, north of Lyon, ordered the magazine to pay €254,143 (£166,818) in damages and set aside a further €60,000 (£40,000) to cover the cost of publishing the ruling in six different places.

The case has since become something of a cause célèbre. Articles – of a generally satirical nature – have appeared in the quality press worldwide. The story has been covered by French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, the Tribune de Genéve, the Times, the New York Times, the Herald Tribune and other publications. Le Point ran a piece entitled ‘La vengeance du Beaujolais’, while Le Monde’s article was headed ‘Pisse-vinaigre’.

On 9 February the Court of Appeal suspended €284,000 of the fine, but Lyon Mag will still have to pay €60,000 to have the Villefranche judgement published in five newspapers to be chosen by the Beaujolais producers.

Lionel Favrot, the magazine’s editor, says that Lyon Mag cannot pay this sum and will be forced to close. ‘In other cases against the press damages never exceed €15,000,’ he said.

Written by Jim Budd10 February 2003

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