French wine industry not entirely convinced by coronavirus crisis plan

Monday May 18 2020 by Vitisphere

 “Any help is good” is the basic feeling within the French wine industry, with major nuances. “Any help is good” is the basic feeling within the French wine industry, with major nuances. - Photo credit : Vin et Société

After initial announcements of “exceptional [government] support for the wine industry” on May 11, Christine Laloue, chair of the Sancerre winegrowers’ organisation was despondent: “I have nothing solid to tell my winegrowers”. The lack of precision and calibration for exemption from national insurance contributions (talk of €100 million) and crisis distillation measures (2 million hectolitres at €70/hl), have left the Loire winegrower patently disappointed. “The measures announced remain vague. Exemption from national insurance contributions is essential, but we would have liked it to be clearer” in terms of amounts and conditions of eligibility, stressed Laloue. Her viewpoint is shared by Champagne winegrowers, who fear the package of aid may go through without them being able to use it.

We know that this is only the starting point, but we are very far off the mark. We're going to have to speak up”, summed up Jean-Marie Barillère, chairman of the national wine marketing board committee (CNIV). The Champagne merchant’s main source of “disappointment is that there are no other tools for managing supply than distillation. In Champagne and northern wine regions there will be no distillation. There is no such thing as one French wine industry but rather a sum of regional wine industries”. Requests of support for private storage and lower yields remain unanswered for the moment.

We have gotten used to a lack of clarity. One of the effects of the coronavirus is that at least a week goes by between announcements and publication of legislation that can be implemented by firms”, complained Philippe Hébrard, managing director of the Rauzan co-operative winery (740 hectares in Bordeaux). In a bid to remain positive, however, Hébrard pointed out that “the flagship measure of the plan is distillation. But everything hinges on price and volume. This is a much-needed tool in all wine regions, barring none”.

In addition to the deferral of natural insurance contributions and State-backed loans, Sébastien Ferrari, owner of Château Malherbe (25 hectares in AOC Côtes de Provence), claimed: “We have been extremely lucky in France to have been able to furlough support and sales department staff with State aid. It’s up to us to get ourselves moving”. Joël Castany, chairman of the Leucate co-operative winery (Vinadeis group), said: “I’m not biting the hand that feeds us, any support is welcome [but] the amount needs to be at least double”.

Discussions over the coming weeks between the government and representatives of the French wine industry promise to be crucial.

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