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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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The growing salience of CRAV’s aims with other vignerons in the Midi during the first few months of 1976 alarmed more moderate vigneron leaders. In concern over the agitated state of affairs, Jean-Baptiste Benet, who was secretary general of FAVF used his position as president of the Comité consultatif viti-vinicole of the EEC to have a meeting with Louis Rabot, the Director-General of Agriculture for the European Community, and his team. Benet followed this February 19 meeting with a proposition to Rabot in the Commission on March 2 about throwing open the scope of negotiations for the common wine market. His major point about guaranteeing revenue to all European producers of wine was underpinned by the qualification that this would be until things ‘returned to normal’ – but it was an assumption there was such a thing to return to. On March 4, Maffre-Baugé, who was not only president of FAVF but involved with CRAV, sent a telegram to the president of the Council of Ministers of Agriculture, warning him that ‘La situation actuelle de crise grave dans les 'SECRET: Relève des decisions du Comité Restreint du vendredi 12 Decembre 1975 à 10.30 - Organisation du marché du vin.' December 15, 1975. 19920339/4, AN.

régions viticoles spécialisées exige des mesures d’urgence telle que l’interdiction de commercialisation et de distillation immédiate des vins anormaux, le respect immédiat des prix d’intervention révisés dans le commerce européen’.33 His message arrived in Brussels during the agricultural marathon to fix prices for agriculture in the 1976 – 1977 farm year, which was largely taken up with trying to find a compromise on wine.34 The next day, a tragedy occurred which seriously shifted the mainstream influence of CRAV.

Emile Pouytès, viticulteur in Corbières à Arquettes-en-Val, and Joêl le Goff, a commander with the national police (that is, the Compagnies républicaines de sécurité or CRS), were killed during a violent mass demonstration led by CRAV in the small town of Montredondes-Corbières in the department of Aude; 30 others were injured. A writer for LJV solemnly opined that ‘Depuis maintenant plusieurs mois, on sentait que la crise viticole ne pouvait s’enliser indéfiniment dans des discussions stériles. Manifestations dans le calme ou la houle, opérations «villes mortes», autant d’avertissements – sans résultats efficients d’ailleurs. Les viticulteurs du Midi n’arrivent plus à écouler leur vin. C’est pour eux une question de vie ou de mort. Mais ils ne veulent pas mourir pour rien, en subissant une solution suicidaire qui à plus ou moins long terme entraine leur disparition. Mourir pour pouvoir vivre. C’est le triste bilan des derniers événements de Narbonne.’35 Giscard d’Estaing met with Jacques Chirac, who, after his term as Prime Minister had ended, was then the Mayor of Paris, and Minister of the Interior Michel Ponistowski regarding the incident, and the French government’s ambivalence towards the situation was captured in Ponistowski’s vague statement to the press: ‘Le gouvernement, avec fermeté, mais aussi avec justice et modération, entend assurer la sécurité.’ The events shocked many fellow La Journée Vinicole, March 4, 1976.



demonstrators, who, even if they still sympathised with the group’s ideals, distanced themselves from CRAV (though it should be noted its membership has always been deliberately obfuscated). After all, ‘A présent, le Languedoc est en deuil. Un lourd silence succède aux bruits stridents des fusillades. Le sang a coulé. Espérons que ce ne sera pas en vain.’36 As M. Soulié, a vigneron heavily involved in the demonstrations and politics at the time, said two years after this incident, ‘After ’76, it was over, with Montredon, and at Montredon…really there was a massing of forces.’37 The Community, the French National Government, and Midi Vignerons at Odds This was a situation in which neither party understood the other. The Community wondered why those in the Midi were behaving the way they were, and especially why the vignerons were not able to understand the changes occurring at the Community level at the time. The bureaucrats had attempted to build policy structures which protected farmers as best they could, over several years of frustrating negotiations. The vignerons could not understand why their national government would expose them to the vagaries of the Community market like this, after leading vignerons to believe they would benefit from increased sales. The vignerons also believed that the Italians were being protected by their national government 38 – and so should the French then be.

The argument advanced by many in the Midi was that the Italians were practicing dumping, and this position was best summarised in a letter Jean-Baptiste Benet, president of the Ibid.

Loubère et al., The Vine Remembers, 173.

For example, this was the very thing starting an open letter from CRAV to Bonnet on July 30, 1975: ‘Tandis que le Ministre Italien de l’agriculture, pour défendre ses ressortissants et son rôle, attaque, tempête, “roule les épaules” et, ‘a coups de poing sur la table, “jamais je n’accepterai ceci, jamais je n’accepterai cela,” vous Ministre français de l’agriculture ne défendez même pas les propositions unanimes des professionnels de la Fédération Nationale des vins de table.’ Confédération Générale des Vignerons du Midi, wrote to Bonnet on August 6, 1975.39 In this letter, Benet scoffed that the government did not know its facts, as Bonnet had reported a French intake of 300,000 hl of foreign wine, but Benet argued the reality was closer to 500,000 hl by only July 21 (the latter was more likely correct, as the records at Sète alone indicate an intake of 378,000 hl for the total month of July 1975.40 Other ports, with considerably less traffic than Sète include Nantes, Cherbourg, Rouen, and Dunkerque.) The ‘scandalously elevated’ volume of wine arrived at ‘ridiculously low prices’, some at 6.50 to 7 francs per degree-hectolitre41, which was below even the official trigger price of 8.88 francs.

(This trigger price, or ‘prix d’intervention’ should ostensibly have set into motion government price protection policies. This protection was automatic for all agricultural markets except for wine. Instead, the trigger price for wine triggered discussions over potential amounts and forms of aid and storage to be given by the Council to affected table wine producers.) He blamed both the négociants and the Italians for the problems and declared that, if respect for the cohesion of the price of wine in the Community was desired, then ‘[ils] doivent eux-mêmes pratiquer des prix conformes aux règles officielles.’ Benet seemed well-versed in Community wine policy, but chose to address national officials, and it was to them that he directed his final plea: ‘Le Gouvernement Français suspendra-t-il les importations, les taxera-t-il d'office? Soutiendra-t-il une plainte de notre profession en Cour de Justice de Luxembourg, pour pratique italienne de dumping en deça du prix officiel de déclenchement d'intervention?’42 Letter from Jean-Baptiste Benet to Christian Bonnet. August 6, 1975. 19920339/4, AN.

'Importations - Sète'. 1259W/78, Archives départementales de l'Hérault.

The unit ‘hectolitre-degree’ or ‘degré-hectolitre’ in the French is the standard unit in prices and taxes on wines. A price is set per hectolitre of pure alcohol of the finished product. It can appear as ‘degré/hl’ and is often shortened to ‘per degree’.

Letter from Jean-Baptiste Benet to Christian Bonnet. August 6, 1975. 19920339/4, AN.

The bureaucracy faced by the French vignerons made it much more difficult for them to be profitable, they argued, as they held to the rather blanket belief that the Italians benefitted from a liberal planting regime and also made poor quality wine that was filled with additives.

The French were convinced of the basic truth that, above all else, the French made better wine than others. In the French collective imagination at the time (and indeed, even now), the seldom-examined idea that France made the best wine was taken as fact. This was part of the response of vignerons to the influx of Italian wines: it was not only that this had a negative effect on the French wine industry, but also, that the offending wine was inferior. In other words, the French imagined that the only reason that Italian table wine was being bought over similar grade French wine was because it was much cheaper.

This idea started to face threats to its credibility; there was beginning to be some compelling evidence that, even given the fact that wine drinking was generally on the decline, the French were not producing wine competitive enough to do well on the market in its own right. When, in the middle of the Midi crisis, the news was leaked that the Marine Nationale, the French navy, had made a purchase of 7000 hl of Spanish wine in the fall of 1976, not only Midi vignerons but many segments of the viticultural industry across the country felt betrayed by this most basic of national disloyalties. To them, the French military purchasing any wine that was not French was treacherous. When Bonnet wrote to Minister of Defense Yvon Bourges, clearly exasperated that his colleague did not avail himself of the opportunity to support French viticulture at such a sensitive time, Bourges wrote back a letter on 28 Oct 1976 that was highly classified. In it, he relayed to Bonnet that the wine that was purchased by the navy for consumption on board and also on overseas expeditions needed to ‘présenter une aptitude certaine à la conservation’ (because of the conditions of being at sea and other transport concerns before consumption) and also be reasonably priced. Laboratory testing commissioned in June by the Ministry of Defense of samples provided by French négociants of French, Spanish, and Moroccan wines revealed that the French samples ‘présentait une médiocre aptitude à la conservation, et ce en dépit d’un prix supérieur de 62% à l’échantillon espagnol retenu dont l’aptitude à la conservation était reconnue satisfaisante.’43 Bourges was apologetic, and there was good reason to believe he was being sincere. A year ago, he had sent a confidential internal memo to top personnel in his department, including his chiefs of staff of the navy, air force, and army, that continually favouring foreign companies for contracts, ‘même si elle a pour effet d’économiser – dans une optique à court terme mais pas nécessairement à moyen terms – les deniers de la Défense’44 was depriving them of a chance to help the ailing French economy. It was important, he stated, not to aggravate French trade balance and the subsisting unemployment levels.

The French government was sympathetic to the plight of the Midi vignerons, but less apt at addressing it in a way that satisfied all the demands on them. While specialist and general press alike sounded the siren of the ‘crise du vin’, a parliamentary task force, which received the approval of the French National Assembly on 19 June 1975, was charged with examining economic problems related to wine. During this time, the newspaper L’Indépendant du Gard – rather unhelpfully for their fellow vignerons – ran the headline ‘Il n’y aura jamais de crise pour le bon vin’, distancing themselves from their Midi counterparts and well-encapsulating the pervasive idea in the Girondes, the region in which quality-wine producing Bordeaux was found, that the Midi’s contribution to the overproduction of wine was directly a cause of their Letter from Yvon Bourges to Christian Bonnet (confidential), 28 October 1976. Côte 19920339. AN.

Internal memo (confidential, very urgent) from Yvon Bourges to top Ministry of Defense staff members. July 22, 1975. 19920339/4, AN.

poor wine,45 which went unbought. This group was chaired by Mr. Maurice Cornette, the Deputy North of the Union of Democrats for the Republic, and devoted a meeting at the beginning of July to hearing from professionals in the wine industry about the root causes of and possible solutions to the wine crisis at the time. This very important and representative meeting included dozens of members of various departments. It also included key personalities in the wine and spirit industries, such as Hervé Bélédin, president of the CNVS, Paul M. Cremieux, president and CEO of the Société des vins de France, and Mr. Boisset, Director of Purchasing for Nicolas, the pre-eminent chain of French wine shops.

The group’s conclusion was that ‘the organisation of the European production of wine and the opening of borders, before the harmonisation of product regulations and trade, are largely responsible for the wine crisis in France’. They also blamed the national government, stating that ‘under-investment over many years in France in the wine sector has had debilitating results’, and believed the solution required that ‘all the links in the wine chain’ come together to develop a comprehensive diagnosis and policy.46 This simple suggestion would have been insidiously difficult to implement – the wine industry professionals in France had complicated relationships amongst themselves which prevented a banding together of this nature. Underpinning this was the divide between growers and merchants. Not everywhere was the relationship between growers and merchants one of enmity, but amongst those involved in table wine in the Midi, this was the case, and many a Languedocien vigneron Even speaking in passing about another subject, Bordelais vignerons revealed their attitude to wines from their southern counterparts, as this likely inadvertent insult demonstrated: ‘Normally appellation wines of good quality, which have escaped the anonymity of lesser wines, like those of Languedoc, normally they should have a good future before them.’ From an interview recorded in Loubère et al., The Vine Remembers, 164.

‘Le redressement du secteur français des vins’, La Journée Vinicole, July 6 & 7, 1975.

dreamt of the day he could be free of his reliance on the middleman between him and his consumers – the merchant.47 The relationship between growers and merchants of wine, the two major families in the wine business, had always been tendentious, which was ‘in the old tradition of their relations.

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