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11.09.2007

Money Alone Will Not Save European Wine

The European wine industry, especially the French wine industry, needs a serious shot in the arm. It has needed one for more than a decade. A few days ago, the European Union tried to give it one, but thanks to the characteristic myopia of international politics, it might as well have just taken a few hundred million dollars and flushed it down the toilet.

The EU recognized, correctly, that European wine isn't particularly competitive (read: doesn't sell) on the world market once you get outside of the luxury price range ($25 and above). Unfortunately, the majority of European wine made falls below this price range, which means that tens of thousands of people who make their living off of such wine as winegrowers, vineyard workers, winemakers, and winery owners are in serious financial straits.

But like the parent of a rebellious teenager who decides that their kid will settle down if they buy them a really nice sports car, the EU mistakenly seems to think that they can spend their way out of the existing crisis. Or perhaps a better analogy might be the the bozos in Washington, D.C. who think that they can fix the problems with Medicare by increasing the subsidies for prescription drugs for the elderly.

"Improving the quality of the wine we produce is a top priority if we are to fend off the challenge posed by New World wine producers," EU Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel is quoted as saying in a recent article in the International Herald Tribune.

This most certainly is true, but those improvements are not going to come from spending $750,000,000 to help farmers replace current rootstocks with newer ones, which is essentially what the EU managed to get through it's committees for this year. The real reforms, like changing labeling laws, marketing laws, and appellation regulations are going to have to wait until next year, apparently.

Which, if you'll permit just a slight bit of cynicism on my part, means basically forever. It's all too easy to just throw money around because constituents always re-elect people who pay their bills. It's hard to do the right thing and completely rethink a broken system.

Here's hoping that the politicians actually mean what they say. What are the chances of that?

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