The French wine world, including growers, producers and négociants, is challenging government plans to introduce new social measures, including taxes on wine.
The lobby group Vin et Societé (Wine and Society), which brings together participants across the sector, launched an internet-based mobilization campaign on Thursday. It features a portrait of François Hollande enjoying a glass of wine, with the message: “Thank you, Mr President, for your support of our country’s second-largest export earner."
The group has its sights primarily set on “the tax proposals targeted at wine under the pretext that it it is bad for the health," said Audrey Bourolleau, CEO of Vin et Societé.
“What are we going to tell China or the United States in the face of this possible tax?” she asked, stressing that "exports account for 30 percent of the French wine market.”
But campaigners are also highlighting “the possible ban on talking about wine on the internet.” Proposals drawn up by an inter-ministerial group to combat illegal drugs and addictions mention that the internet could be removed from the list of authorized advertising media*.
Discussions on the plans for wine will be held in November, as part of the government's work on a new public health law.
“We are asking for these measures to be dropped and for the creation of an inter-ministerial body with the aim of establishing a real dialogue," Bourolleau said. She noted that the proposed measures could “threaten the wine sector, which accounts for 7.8 billion euros in exports."
A special website will allow visitors "to support the campaign through different social networks and also to directly question their region’s parliamentarians."
Vin et Societé is condemning what it calls “a moralizing trend," consisting of “banning behavior and reducing personal responsibility” among the French. According to Bourolleau, the proposed government measures “serve not to discourage excess but to stigmatize." She notes that while “31 million French drink wine on average once or twice a week," overall wine consumption has fallen by 20 percent in 10 years.
“Our meetings with the Ministry of Health have been worrying, even alarming,” said Bernard Farges, chair of Bordeaux’s wine industry association, the Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB). He expressed concern about government advisers with a “tendency to alarm the politicians and encourage them to take repressive measures."
Like other regional wine industry associations, the CIVB is a member of Vins et Société and is responsible for 25 percent of its budget. The Champagne region contributes the same amount.
"Some advisers at the Ministry of Health want to see the average consumption of wine in France fall, to reduce alcoholism," said Farges. "We’ve seen, particularly since 1991, that this policy doesn’t work. Consumption of strong alcohol has risen, ‘binge drinking’ has arrived, and drunkenness has increased."
Farges added: “It’s not about advocacy but about having a moderate, educational and responsible discourse. If the aim is to socialize young people it would be better to launch in that direction than with health warnings all over the packaging."
Despite the proposals being considered by the government, Farges believes that “rare are the the politicians and policymakers who don’t support us." However, that provides little consolation. According to Farges, the French agriculture minister, Stéphane Le Foll, “has told us it’s out of the question, but it can still come through parliament. We are not reassured. We are fearful."
*The French department for action against drugs (MILDT) in France has since admitted that it mistakenly posted information proposing that the internet could be removed from the list of authorized advertising media. Withdrawing that section of its September 19 announcement, it said the erroneous inclusion of a plan to ban wine advertisements online was an "unfortunate copy and paste mistake."