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01.26.2006

Bordeaux vs. Languedoc: The Knives Come Out

Every piece of news about wine coming out of France these days seems laden with misfortune. I shake my head -- partially in sincere pity, partially with the amazement of someone watching a self-induced nervous breakdown. The French just can't seem to get a lucky break, and now it seems they may even be headed for a sort of civil war of vinous proportions.

Before we get to that however, let's review the situation, shall we?

The short story is this -- there's far too much wine in France -- too many barrels filled with stuff that people won't drink (and therefore can't be sold) and too many vineyards growing grapes, that then get turned into that excess wine. Tied up in both those vineyards and the wine are many people's livelihoods, and suffice it to say, those folks ain't doing so well these days. Which is why they are firebombing wineries, dumping truckloads of manure here and there, and bricking up the entrances to important wine related organizations. What they hope to accomplish with these efforts, I don't know. But a lot of people have gone from winegrower to terrorist in the last year or so.

Of course oversupply is only the beginning of a long list of problems that the French wine industry faces, from an outdated appellation system, to a shrinking number of wine drinkers in the country, to insanely archaic laws about how wine can be marketed, the wine industry, especially the lower ends of the market, are up the proverbial shit creek without a paddle.

The government is taking, or attempting to take various measures to alleviate the situation, including distilling some of the excess wine into industrial grade alcohol and even car fuel, and they are also taking a page from the United States playbook of subsidized agriculture and paying / forcing winegrowers to rip out vineyards to stem the tide of unwanted wine.

It's this last measure which seems to be at the heart of some recent vicious remarks traded between Frances most famous wine region (Bordeaux) and it's largest wine producing region by volume (the Languedoc). It seems that in the past year about 28,000 acres (!) of vines in the Languedoc have been pulled up to comply with the government request, but in Bordeaux, only 4,000 acres have been destroyed. This disparity is leading to acute animosity between the winegrowers of each region, and has resulted in some of the first major cross-appellation sniping I've heard of. "We continue to uproot [vines], we send millions of hectoliters to be distilled, while the Bordelais stuff themselves and twirl their moustaches," says one of those winegrowers-turned-terrorist. Apparently the Bordeaux growers also failed to show up and support a demonstration held by Languedoc winemakers earlier in the year. Some people have even been quoted as suggesting that this is a new aparthied. Whoa.

Soon these people will not only be attacking the government and merchant institutions, and their supposed sympathizers, they'll be attacking each other. It boggles my mind. Read the full story.

Please. Someone. Save. France.

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