French vintners threw out thousands of gallons of Spanish wine to protest the steep competition they’ve been experiencing.
It’s been a rough few years for the wine industry in France. Vintners have been grappling with a decreasing demand for French wines amid economic instability and inflation. Tensions reached a breaking point when 500 Gallic winemakers intercepted trucks carrying Spanish wine last October 19, as per The Telegraph. According to The Daily Mail, the vehicles were crossing through the Le Boulou tollbooth just ten miles from the border between France and Spain.
The vintners then proceeded to empty out thousands of bottles of rosé and cava onto the road. They also destroyed 10,000 bottles of sparkling Spanish wine, reported The Telegraph. Altogether, the infuriated winegrowers destroyed seven shipments worth of wine in what they called an “economic war against economic criminals.” But where exactly did all this hostility towards the Spanish wine industry come from?
The attack that occurred last week is not the first in a series of protests against Spanish wine importation. In fact, the problem goes as far back as 2017. For example, an article from The New York Times discussed France’s ongoing “wine wars” when a group of winegrowers set some of the country’s largest wine brokerages on fire. The reason for this being that the aforementioned businesses had struck deals to import inexpensive Spanish wines in the country. For years, French vintners have been struggling to compete with the prices of Spanish wines, which have placed their very livelihoods in jeopardy.
To France’s winegrowers, the attacks are their only way of sending a strong message across the local industry and government. The recent destruction of the Spanish wine shipments is no exception.
“The Spanish have lower charges and the right to put all the chemicals they want on their vines while we have the right to nothing,” explained Antoine, a 79-year-old wine grower from Ouveillan, as per The Telegraph.
Cheaper production costs (in part due to the convenience of the aforementioned chemicals), has led to Spanish wine being half the price of French wine. Antoine shared that a hectolitre of Spanish wine costs €40, while local wine costs €80—making for incredibly difficult competition.
A Demand for Change
“It is out of the question to accept the situation as it is,” said Frédéric Rouanet, the wine growers’ union president for those based in the Aude region, to The Telegraph. “Starting from today, we are going to remove the possibility of buyers being able to get cheap wines from elsewhere … we are going to stop Spanish imports.”
Despite the illegal nature of the protest, there doesn’t seem to be much backlash from the government. As reported by French newspaper Vitisphere, local authorities kept their distance at the scene. Alain Ginies, the vice-president of Aude’s council, expressed that the government remains close to its winegrowers, given the wine industry’s important economic role.
Years of Challenges
Steep competition isn’t the only thing that’s been plaguing the French wine industry. In an August feature, The Guardian reported that France’s government set aside €200 million to fund the destruction of surplus wines in the country. The state also allotted funds to encourage winegrowers to switch to other agricultural endeavors like growing olives.
A variety of factors have exacerbated this surplus. These include a decrease in consumer demand, inflation, and the after-effects of the COVID pandemic. Recently, customers have been switching to beer and other alcoholic beverages as opposed to wine. What’s more, the rising prices of goods amid economic instability has caused consumers to avoid spending on non-essentials like wine. Additionally, many bars and restaurants—some of the wine industry’s biggest customers—experienced shutdowns due to the COVID pandemic, further decreasing demand.
Only time will tell whether these string of protests will soon yield agreeable results, but it seems like France’s vintners won’t be backing down anytime soon until fairer terms are established.
Banner photo by Piotr Makowski via Unsplash.