Bordeaux winemakers on Tuesday called for emergency government aid as plunging demand from China has left many facing closure.
In the biggest demonstration in the region for almost 20 years, vintners and local officials marched through the centre of the world’s wine capital brandishing banners with slogans including “1,000 fewer growers equals 10,000 more unemployed”.
Organisers are demanding that the state authorises them to pull up 37,000 acres of vineyards out of a total of 110,000 in France’s biggest wine appellation.
They want authorities to reimburse them €10,000 per hectare of vines removed.
Winemakers say they are suffering from a perfect storm of overproduction, dwindling red wine consumption (down 15 per cent in three years), extra stress from drought, floods and hail due to climate change, and a brutal halt in exports to China.
The Chinese long favoured Bordeaux over other regions like Burgundy and wealthy individuals bought up dozens of chateaus in the region.
However, China’s Bordeaux craze took a first massive hit in 2014 when its wines came to be seen by Xi Jinping’s regime as a symbol of western decadence amid an anti-corruption drive.
The more discreet and rarified Burgundy wine region appears to have benefitted as a result.
Albéric Bichot, whose family has been making Burgundy wine since 1831, said foreign connoisseurs were demanding “finesse and elegance”, and had gone off “too tannic wines”, often synonymous with Bordeaux.
In recent years, exports from Bordeaux to China had recovered somewhat but then the Covid pandemic struck.
“Exports to China and the rest of Asia totally ground to a halt during the pandemic and the war in Ukraine hasn’t helped,” said Karim Nasser, owner of Bordeaux wine merchant Signature Selections.
The last such major demonstration dates back to 2004 - a year when a global wine glut saw Bordeaux wine prices plummet. At the time, authorities granted permission to grub up some 3,500 hectares.
However, since 2008, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) changed the rules to prevent subsidies from being spent directly on grubbing up vines. That has prompted calls from officials from Marine Le Pen’s hard-Right National Rally party to “renationalise the CAP”.
Edwige Diaz, a local RN MP who was at the protest, said: “We’ve been calling for France to leave the European market and favour re-industrialisation for months. It’s the only way to fully support French winemaking.”