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07.06.2006

British Pensioners to Rescue France?

Surely you've heard of the "wine lake" ? This lovely phrase refers to the millions of gallons of wine produced in Europe, but primarily France, which has no sales outlet. It can't be sold because there's just too much of it made, too little of it consumed, and no matter what they mark it down to, the price just ain't right to buy.

This is, of course, the reason that a lot of winegrowers in France are upset, and why a few of them have turned terrorist and are doing awful things like blowing up buildings and toppling tanker trucks, and dumping tons of manure in front of some businesses.

The French and the EU have been at a loss over what to do with all this wine. The only decent proposal that has been made thus far is to distill it into industrial alcohol (ethanol) but there's not even a strong enough market to guarantee that they can sell it.

But finally, someone has come up with another solution. Ian Davidson, a Scottish Member of Parliament has developed a brilliant scheme to dry up the wine lake and do some "social good" at the same time.

He's proposing that France simply bottle the stuff and give a case to every aging pensioner in the UK. Talk about social services...

Comments (6)

Terry Hughes wrote:
07.07.06 at 5:42 AM

Wow. Think of the extra work for the boy scouts guiding those sloshed little old ladies across the street! It's a win-win for everyone, isn't it?

Whit Stevens wrote:
07.07.06 at 3:57 PM

Can you imagine the US Fed government bailing out US producers, were a similar situation to occur here?

Then again, I suppose the US does have a system of government subsidy. Not for wine, but for other agricultural products.

Seems to me that absolutely nothing should be done in France. The over supply situation will be remedied if you let French farmers exit the wine making business... which will surely happen if they keep losing money year after year.

I suppose the French (and many others) feel a person has the right to succeed in whatever they do. Personally, while I feel people have the right to try to succeed, society is not obligated to ensure that they do succeed.

Most of us are better off in the long run if (relatively) poor producers are allowed to fail.

Alder wrote:
07.07.06 at 4:32 PM

Funny that you bring this up -- I just finished reading Cadillac Desert : The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition, and if there was one thing that book made incredibly clear it was that we provide exactly the same sorts of subsidy to American farmers, not just by guaranteeing certain prices for crops (which we actually do) or by paying them not to grow crops (which we also do) but by poviding them unbelievable amounts of water at far below the cost required to actually get it to them, while we the taxpayers foot the bill.

It's a travesty of a similar sort (but much larger in scale -- on the order of tens of billions of dollars) as what's going on in France, and I believe neither should be occurring.

However, there are things that the French government could do in terms of changing regulations that would make things easier on these growers and winemakers, and with some luck, the crisis will push them in that direction.

Further subsidies, though, would be insane.

Whit Stevens wrote:
07.07.06 at 5:16 PM

Good point Alder, the French could do more by doing less (relaxing regulation of lower level wine).

And yes, the western U.S. water system is a huge government subsidy.. and one that unfortunately leads to the improper allocation of water resources. Western electricity is also heavily subsidized (via the Bonneville Power Association for example). No wonder West Coasters are so laid back... they're living off the hard working East Coasters!

Terry Hughes wrote:
07.08.06 at 6:57 AM

1. Right on, Whit! (Written in NYC.)

2. The EU has recently taken other steps to reduce the amount of crummy wine produced over there, the most important being to forbid sugaring (chaptalisation) in most instances. I covered this in a brief article a couple of weeks ago on mondosapore. This is a step of potentially enormous importance in reducing the size of the wine lake and shoring up prices. And, I should think, in raising the overall quality of the wine that is produced. One thing is certain: European producers cannot begin to compete with Australia and S. America in a "race to the bottom" with regard to price; a move to enhanced overall quality is the only viable, long-term strategy for them. IMHO, that is.

FrogBlogger wrote:
07.16.06 at 11:47 PM

Much as I admire the way the French are trying to preserve the things they believe in, their head-in-the-sand attitude towards their wine industry is suicidal.

Educating people to respect an allegedly 'superior' product is not the way of the market, as the French are finally learning to their cost. Plus there are too many small growers with no budget for marketing.

At last they are beginning to see sense and are attempting to give people what they want. Simple labels, catchy, memorable identities, basic explanations of the grape and its suitability for different meals, less waffle about the 'terroir' and a move away from unpronouncable chateau names. Too little, too late?

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