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«The London School of Economics and Political Science Wine In Their Veins: France and the European Community’s Common Wine Policy, 1967-1980 Maria ...»

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Another major reason why agreeing on a wine policy was so particularly difficult was that there were no established best practices in wine. To observers from non-wine producing countries, such a statement would probably seem common sense. But to those from countries with strong wine producing backgrounds, there was rightness or wrongness in wine growing traditions which, without objective standards by which to measure these, meant that compromise was particularly difficult to reach, because compromise entailed ‘giving in’ to another country’s ways of doing things. Another impediment to dealing with this issue more Eric Naylor, 'Milk Quotas and the Changing Pattern of Dairying in France,' Journal of Rural Studies 9, no. 1 (1993): 60.

In speaking of end-prices, it is important to note there are different end-prices for different groups, but all are variously affected by international pressures. Firstly, there were the prices paid to producers, either through purchase by merchants or less frequently, by consumers directly. Secondly, there were the end-prices of wines as paid to merchants, usually by large firms, such as supermarket chains or international wholesale buyers, which could be negotiated annually. Thirdly, and once again quite differently, were end-prices for consumers, though they faced the least volatile end-prices, but it was possible for them to pay different prices for the same wines in different years.

Loubère et al., The Vine Remembers, 141.

openly was the seeming inability of countries to simply say that there were different cultures of wine growing – in a technocratic economics-based environment, the currency in Brussels was that of languages and not sentimental idealism or identity issues in negotiations. Even in those negotiations that merited it, and in particular merited discussions on culture and tradition, in a post-war context of creating a new European order, they were not particularly welcome.

This was not an area where one could uncover an agreed-upon set of best practices. Wine in the member states was about tradition, heritage, organic processes of development, and culture. A good example was the acceptance of the practice of chaptalisation, the process of adding sugar to unfermented grape must47 in order to increase the alcohol content after fermentation. There is no particular rightness or wrongness to this process, but the Italians disliked it and the French and Germans had permitted this in certain wines for many generations. Chaptalisation is used traditionally in cooler areas where white wine grapes are grown to improve the final taste and reduce acidity. This climate-related tradition did not grow up in Italy, for Italians did not encounter the issue for which it was a solution, whereas it was a useful way to improve taste in certain German and French regions. Likewise, different opinions about edulcoration, the addition of concentrated grape must to sweeten a wine which is otherwise finalised, were presented as technical facts by Italy and France during a CSA meeting in July 1969, with the resultant ‘solutions’ each party gave to the problems simply being references to what was done at home; a standstill was then hardly a surprise. The process of negotiating wine was essentially more akin to negotiating over value and dominance of cultural practices in a final European wine policy. The creation of the other markets, particularly those for cereals, were, if still difficult, more straight-forward, more Grape must is freshly pressed grape juice containing stems, skin, and seeds.

technocratic, and less imbued with symbolic value, identity, and culture than the one for wine.

–  –  –

The tension between economic and political imperatives facing the European Community institutions was a significant problem impeding progress during negotiations over the Common Wine Policy. The question ‘whither the CAP?’ was uncomfortably present throughout the discussion, to which the answer in the early 1960s had been to prioritise political and welfarist imperatives, over economic ones. Ann-Christina Knudsen’s arguments about the moral economy of the Common Agricultural Policy48 are particularly apt in this discussion: the value of maintaining parity in farmers’ incomes and of supporting the continuation of the family farm were part of the design of the fabric of the nascent CAP. By the time the CWP negotiations began, the direction of the overall agricultural project was set, and within its structure was a moral compass that harboured difficulties the wine policy negotiations exposed.

The CWP negotiations, already plagued by disagreement because of lack of best practice, and wine’s poor fit with the other agricultural products under the purview of a European policy, were hampered by the difficulty of dealing with wine as an economic good. Table wine and quality wine were two different economic products, and operated under different economic pressures, yet the two were subject to the same policy. Quality wine increasingly behaved as a luxury economic good, for which demand increases more than would be proportional as Knudsen, Farmers on Welfare: The Making of Europe's Common Agricultural Policy.

incomes increase; by contrast, table wine began to shift from being a normal good to being an inferior economic good, for which demand decreases as incomes increase.

The difference between quality wine and table wine is crucial to understanding the course of the CWP, particularly in the policy’s first decade. Much as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, wine desirability is in the subjective tastes of the drinker. Undoubtedly there is some truth to the idea that ascertaining the value and quality of wine – if otherwise free from faults like being corked – is inherently a subjective analysis. Some would go so far as to say that ‘the quality of any wine is socially and politically constructed.’49 Certainly, in the process of even claiming there ought to be one category for wines considered to be high quality and one category of wine considered to be low quality – euphemistically ‘table wine’, and previously in France also known as ‘vin de consommation courante’ – signalled a process of political construction.

This political construction was partly responding to changing social constructions of wine, where alongside the decline in wine consumed per capita in Mediterranean countries50 came the ‘the development of a new wine drinking culture in France...[in] the 1970s.’51 The change was propelled by the tastes of the growing middle classes, who drank less wine to begin with and furthermore did so, and also selectively chose their wines, to ‘[enable] them to differentiate themselves from other social groups by adopting the ways of drinking that were once the preserve of the haute bourgeoisie.’52 The criteria that was used to develop the two Andy Smith, 'Quality, who's quality? The impact of the EU's 2008 wine policy reform in France and in Spain,' in Actes de colloques du 9e symposium international d'oenologie de Bordeaux (Paris: Dunod, 2012), 22.

Demossier, Wine Drinking Culture in France: A National Myth or a Modern Passion, 70.


Ibid., 74.

different wine categories used a combination of alcohol percentage53 and geographic locale54 to designate a wine as being in a better category: even the nomenclature itself – assigning one category as ‘quality’ surely suggests the other is not, regardless of cosmetic euphemistic attempts to avoid this – was evidence of construction. Yet this political construction was also partly responding to another imperative: table wine and quality wine were operating differently as economic goods in the market.

The CWP did not reconcile this growing economic difference between table and quality wines, for it would have made sense for there to be two sets of economic policies. From a political point of view, it would have been tremendously difficult, not to mention unpopular, to institute two sets of economic policy to wine grape growers, whose products were ostensibly the same, even when the products were subject to different kinds of economic pressure in markets. A small effort made to differentiate the two projects was taken with the establishment of regulation 817/70, which complemented 816/70, the principal body of the CWP. While 816/70 was the focus of the Community’s efforts to intervene in the European wine industry and is what is largely being referred to when discussing the CWP, the Commission created 817/70 to lay down additional provisions for quality wines. This regulation was largely a formal exercise, for 817/70 straightened some administrative lines in quality wine labelling and naming as in article 12,55 which regulated the use of ‘quality wine produced in a specified region’ (in English known as QWPSR and – as it was more commonly referred to in all languages – by its French acronym VPQRD for ‘vins de qualité produits dans des régions déterminées’), but had little other impact on quality wine growers.

Rather roughly, wines with an alcohol content of 9% or higher – up until the maximum of 14% – were considered to be better quality than those with an alcohol content of below 9%.

To be more accurate to their wishes though, the policymakers’ full criterion was ‘character derived from geographic locale’. Again, this is a subjective assessment.

'Regulation (EEC) No. 817/70 of the Council of 28 April 1970 laying down special provisions relating to quality wines produced in specific regions,' in L99/20, 20-25: Journal Officiel des Communautés Européenes, 1970.

Overproduction of wine was a serious concern. Despite confusing and conflicting statistics suggesting it was permanent, temporary, or indeed, no longer an issue, the Council of Ministers stated formally as early as 1961 that ‘des excédents à caractère permanent sont la cause de graves difficultés dans l’économie viticole’.56 Particularly with poorer quality wine, the route that would have made most economic sense was to forcibly cut down on wine production through methods like grubbing up vines, or allow those wines to bear the brunt of the market, which would have forced producers of these wines to find other employment or to relocate to urban centres. But, coupled with statistical and informational problems, the political problem of buttressing farmers’ incomes was given more weight. The policy went through, even though the mechanisms of this policy encouraged further production of wine, with the promise of Community support in the case of poor sales or overproduction through price fixing for income support and costly measures like distillation and storage. The disagreement between the French and the Italians subsisting on this point bogged down negotiations.

–  –  –

During negotiations, the French government was well aware that the advantage of the Common Wine Policy was that it would be the Community, rather than the French Ministry of Finance as it stood at the time, that would ‘supporterait de graves risques financiers’57 that taking on the care of the wine industry would entail. But the French government was nervous 'Communauté Economique Européenne - Réglement portant etablissement graduel d'une organisation commune des marchés dans le domaine viti-vinicole - final.' July 24, 1961. CM2 1962 620 ac, Consilium Archives.

'Compte rendu: Organisation commune du marché viti-vinicole.' Secrétaire Général du Comité Interministériel, January 19, 1968. Affaires économiques et financières: Coopération économique, 714 (1967AD.

– at an interministerial meeting on January 17, 1968, the SGCI relayed its analysis of the situation: ‘La construction du texte de la Commission repose sur l'hypothèse d'une situation déficitaire de la production viticole dans le marché communautaire. Un analyse plus approfondie met en évidence que ce marché est en fait en une position d'équilibre qui se romprait, si aucun remède n'y est porté, pour aboutir dans les prochaines années à une situation d'excédent permanent.’58 The issue of the political and economic perspectives on wine was aptly highlighted by the different stances taken by the French Ministry of Agriculture and the French Ministry of Finance: the former, well aware that it would be unpopular with farmers to have such a divide, ‘ne pense pas qu’il soit opportun de séparer dans la négociation le réglement sur les vins de qualité et celui sur les vins de table’,59 which the latter had also suggested, on the premise that this would be the sounder and more financially viable route. As the French Ministry of Finance representative argued, ‘notre principal intérêt commercial se trouve dans l’exportation des vins de qualité. Des concessions faites dans le domaines des V.P.Q.R.D.

nous permettraient d’être d’une rigueur intransigeante sur les vins de table.’60 That the CWP was created at all, given divergent views on vine-growing, wine production, labelling, unique traditions and customs in oenology, was a significant feat of national harmonisation and will. As mentioned previously, as late as in 1969, the FAO had remarked that the Community’s common wine policy ‘has indeed made very little progress and the major problems remain still to be resolved.’61 They had seemed to think there was not a good chance of a common wine policy emerging, at least any time soon. Yet less than a year later, Ibid.



Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, 'The World Wine and Vine Products Economy: A study of trends and problems,' 21.

the expansive and ambitious CWP emerged. Wine, as the last of the markets negotiated, was negotiated under a kind of ‘pressure to complete’, because it was seen as necessary to include vignerons – the inclusion of wine in the common markets was affected by identity pressures stemming from European notions of the image of the family farm. But while the negotiation of wine’s inclusion in the CAP was difficult, the course of its policy became more problematic yet.

–  –  –

This chapter looks at the first decade of the Common Wine Policy and discusses its implementation amidst economic downturn, the problems encountered with overproduction in 1973 and 1974, and the wine crisis faced by the Community with the March 1975 French As cited in Demossier, Wine Drinking Culture in France: A National Myth or a Modern Passion, 1.

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