Wood Chips and Wine: The French Press Reacts

By Betty Carlson
Cuisine Quotidienne

The announcement that the French government would allow winemakers to use wood chips caused a great stir among wine-lovers in France and abroad. But how did the French press react to the news?

First, a reminder that the recent wood chip decision is only a small part of a set of measures designed to save the French wine industry. The government will allot a total of 90 million euros, or approximately 110 million dollars, to boost exports, improve quality control and give direct aid to debt-ridden wineries. The program also promises to create new … … marketing strategies. In practice, this will mean creating a France brand and focusing on regional labels rather than the complex AOC system. A national wine committee will oversee the implementation of the Bussereau plan, so named after Dominique Bussereau, Minister of Agriculture.

As would be expected, lHumanité, Frances communist newspaper, speaks out against the proposals, accusing the minister of wanting to ape new world wines in order to save export markets. Calling the program a mini-plan, the article concludes that it wont be satisfactory to farmers and will reduce the quality of French wines.

The left-leaning paper Libération spends little time on the wood-chip decision, and reports on the Bussereau plan in neutral terms. But a later article points out past inaction, implying that the government ignored a number of previous studies about the wine crisis.

Le Monde emphasizes the importance of exports given that the French market cannot be expected to grow in the near future. Its article underscores the complexity of the wine sectors organizational structure in France, where interprofessional organizations, unions, AOC groupings, cooperatives and producers engage in separate promotional strategies and all too often compete against one another.

Le Mondes rival Le Figaro gives the subject more extensive coverage, calling the changes a revolution for the wine industry and focusing on the industrial transformation that will no doubt take place in the French wine sector as vines are ripped out and producers are forced to make a consumers wine rather than the wine they have dreamed about.

The business magazine LExpansion focuses on the wood-chip issue, but also explains the other elements of the plan. With a marketers eye, the article recognizes that its up to French wines to adapt to the new demand.

LExpansion concludes that winemakers are generally satisfied with the plan, whereas the general news magazine LExpress states that the profession wants more and emphasizes that winemakers consider the measures to be just a first step to a solution. However, the specialized agricultural site Agrisalon.com, reveals that some farmers, especially in the beleaguered Languedoc region, are unhappy with the plan and will certainly protest against it.

And what about the average French persons reaction? Perhaps just a shrug of the shoulders before sipping a beer, a Coca, or a glass of mineral water which is why the sector is in trouble in the first place.

Editor’s note: Guest columnist Betty Carlson — who writes regularly for Growers and Grocers, a sister channel of Wine Sediments on the WellFed network — is a native of the Pacific Northwest. She has worked, cooked, and raised a family in France for the last 16 years.

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