Furious French wine makers hijack Spanish tankers, pouring 90,000 bottles down the drain
Cheers erupted as around around 150 furious vintners from the Aude and Pyénées-Orientales departments unscrewed the cap on two tankers at Le Boulou, close to the Mediterranean town of Perpignan and less than ten miles from Spain, and emptied their contents onto the motorway on Monday.
Three other Spanish vehicles were allowed to leave with their tanks half empty after having the words "vin non conforme" (non-compliant wine) daubed on their sides. Local police looked on at the “social action”, while French vintners took samples to check for fraudulent wine.
They also claim that many Spanish producers are fraudulently mixing their wines with South American fare, some even slapping “Made in France” labels on the bottles.
“If a French wine maker produced wine with Spanish rules, he simply wouldn’t be able to sell it,” said Frédéric Rouanet, the president of the Aude winemakers’ union. “Europe’s all very well, but with the same rules for all.”
Denis Pigouche, president of Pyrenees-Orientales winemakers said: “These wines have no place in France. What’s more they’re not even necessarily European. I suspect they are from South America and then ‘Hispanicised' in Barcelona and then Europeanised, or even Frenchified in France."
The protest comes after industry figures showed that France is now the biggest buyer of Spanish wine – purchasing 580million litres in 2014, a 40 per cent rise on 2013. France has also lost its status as the world’s biggest wine producer. Last year Italy produced 4,900 million litres compared with 4,700 million litres in France.
He said the tanker hijack was “just the beginning” unless their demands were met, threatening action in the nearby port of Sète against the import of Italian wines.
“We will continue until we’ve proved that the illegal traffic of wine is going on. We are going to protect our consumers. You can trace our wine from the vineyards to the bottle and those same rules should apply to all.”
Wine makers in southwestern France are notoriously hot-blooded and even have a shadowy “armed wing” called le Crav – the Comité Régional d’Action Viticole - that has conducted various commando operations over the years, even laying explosives at “enemy” wine distributors it feels are not supporting local produce.
Mr Rouanet made a name for himself in recent weeks after threatening to block at least one of the Tour de France race stages when the bike race organisers chose a Chilean wine as an official sponsor. Bicicleta, from Chile's Cono Sur company, will only be advertised at promotional events held when the race briefly enters Switzerland, Andorra and Spain, as under French law no alcohol brands can be promoted during sports events in the country.
The prospect of the the stage between Carcassonne and Montpellier being blocked if the partnership with the New World winemaker goes ahead led to government assurances that local French produce would be given pride of place at stage starts and finishes.
However, the wine makers still say they feel “humiliated” and are due to meet Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme on May 10.
Origin information: The Telegraph