«The London School of Economics and Political Science Wine In Their Veins: France and the European Community’s Common Wine Policy, 1967-1980 Maria ...»
Through the second half of 1975, French vignerons decided to wait on Ministry of Agriculture representatives to come up with a solution to their problems. While the government appeared slow to come up with a solution, different local groups reacted by trying to strengthen their own local and regional organisations. At the pivotal third congress of CNCV, one of the most important national viticultural groups which brought together roughly 870 French caves coopératives, the organisation chose to focus on ‘le rôle de la coopération dans la défense de la viticulture face à la crise et à son avenir.’59 At this year’s meeting, they also had, for the first time, two commissions instead of one; they split into a group for table wine and a group for VQPRD (vins de qualité produits dans des régions déterminées) because, as they delicately stated, ‘cette innovation était indispensable tant les domaines administratifs sont différents pour ces deux types de vins’.60 The VQPRD commission unequivocally decided not to pursue the establishment of a national wine office for quality wines, while the meeting ‘pour le moins animé pour ne pas dire passionné’61 of the table wine commission decided that the answer to the major problem facing them – ‘le règlement communautaire et…les problemes de potentialité’62 – was the creation of a national office of wine.
On April 7, 1976, the decree for the establishment of a national wine office was passed by the Assemblé Générale and the Office national interprofessionnel des vins de table (ONIVIT) was created. ONIVIT replaced the Institut des vins de consommation courante (IVCC) which had been founded in 1954 with a more technical mandate to form a vineyard registry, and to research and disseminate information on wine production and on a more limited level, marketing. ONIVIT replaced the loosly structured IVCC and was a public establishment with industrial and commercial purview with legal and financial autonomy. ONIVIT went beyond the powers of IVCC, particularly with storage aid for table wine and the issuing of import licenses for wines from third countries – it also had the power to investigate and settle requests for assistance, particularly in the conversion of vineyards. It was a marked and decided turn to both intervention and devolving power from the traditional site for these types of policy decisions, which would normally have been handled by the Ministry of Agriculture.
ONIVIT was created directly in response to the European Community wine regulations, and had in its purview the responsibility of largely handling European Community wine regulations and their implementation in France.
In a secret Matignon meeting shortly before Christmas 1975, Bonnet, Fourcade, and Giscard d’Estaing had agreed that a new national wine office, which should be named ONIVIT ‘pour des raisons psychologiques’64 (‘table wine’ sounded marginally better than ‘wine for current consumption’, and ‘national office’ sounded grander than ‘institute’), should serve the purpose of making ‘interventions sur le marché prévues par la réglementation en vigueur (qu’il s’agisse de la règlementation actuelle ou de celle qui résultera des négociations '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.
communautaires)’. Though they specified that they should do this with strict compliance with the limits and conditions set by the latter, it was clear that the national government expected to hand over a great deal of the responsibility of decision-making in this complicated and controversial area to others.
Speed was of the essence: the French government scrambled to come up with a strong response in the face of the previous month’s ‘fusillade’ at which a police officer and a vigneron from Montredon had been killed. The representative group gathered to run ONIVIT was created amidst some controversy, as the balance of growers against merchants was a topic of considerable negotiation. This historically sore point was exacerbated by the existing tensions faced by the new organisation, as high hopes were placed by table wine producers on this organisation to satisfy their two major common demands. The producer–merchant divide made negotiations difficult – on July 1, 1976, for example, an ONIVIT in its infancy faced the storming out of the growers, led by Emmanuel Maffre-Baugé and Jean-Baptiste Benet, acting respectively as the president and secretary general of the FVTP. In perhaps a rash move, both announced their resignations from FVTP in anger over what they now believed ONIVIT to be: a ‘miroir aux alouettes qui sert d’une part à les berner, d’autre part à s’appliquer les décisions communautaires’, a smokescreen that indeed they began to perceive the merchants and Parisian bureaucrats were in on creating. Leading viticulteurs out with the war cry of ‘C’est la loi de la jungle communautaire!’, Maffré-Baugé later explained that ‘nous ne cautionnons pas l’absence de politique viticole, c’est ce qui explique notre départ de l’Office’.65 'L’Office du vin continue…mais les viticulteurs ont quitté la séance ' La Journée Vinicole, July 1, 1976.
This disenchantment over a national office in which such high hopes had been placed might have lifted in due course to allow the Office to begin working again after some negotiating and after tempers had cooled. However, a major public dispute was also responsible for the way in which growers continued to spurn full engagement with this national project, which had been created under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture and with great involvement of the Minister of Agriculture Christian Bonnet and even indeed Prime Minister Jacques Chirac’s personal oversight. A few days before Christmas of 1976, Bonnet, in an interview with Sud Radio regarding the increasing dire wine situation, declared that the problem was that the Midi produced a great deal of ‘bibine’ (a colloquial word used to describe table wine of poor quality, roughly akin to ‘dishwater’ in English). He said that the real solution for this overproduction of bibine was ‘qu’ils crèvent!’. This was perhaps a slip of the tongue – but it was the first public proclamation of the kind of frustration that Bonnet had been feeling for a while. The situation had become untenable – how much longer could Bonnet’s office manage to keep the chariot intact when two of its horses were trying to move in different directions? The French commitment to the Community project was publically under strain and scrutiny with the affair of the blockade at Sète and the consequent illegal tax they had placed. But there was no ignoring the crescendo of complaints from their citizenry.
The furious roars of disapproval began immediately, intensifying an already difficult situation. Bonnet received a flood of letters, many from heads of cooperatives and syndicates, and from individual vignerons themselves, running the gamut from angry to rude to downright vitriolic, with an occasional quiet supportive letter for his ‘courage’ in voicing his opinion. This occasion opened up an important space in which a great variety of French public and private citizens expressed their views and opinions.
For some, Bonnet had become the Grinch of Christmas. The mayor of Narbonne, an important viticultural township in the Midi, wrote to say ‘A la veille de Noël, pendant que les hommes de bonne volonté cherchaient à se comprendre et à s’estimer, j’apprenais qu’un Ministre déclarait à propos de certains viticulteurs: “si ces gens-là doivent “crever, qu’ils crèvent!”…. ils sont scandaleux si vous aviez ‘a l’esprit la production de la plaine narbonnaise et biterroise, qui n’est pas “l’affreuse bibine” dont vous auriez parlé….Lorsqu’on est Ministre de l’Agriculture, il est inadmissible que certains problèmes viticoles aux raissonances lourdes de conséquences, notamment ceux de la vaste plaine narbonnaise chargée d’histoire, puissent être évoqués avec une telle désinvolture.’66 Likewise, in response to Bonnet’s saying it had simply been a bad choice of words, which were now being taken out of context, someone wrote in to say ‘[si un] Ministre ne peut plus maitriser ses nerfs’,67 he had to go.
A particularly revealing letter68 was sent from President A. Crouzet of the Association de Propagande pour le vin, who was also Vice-President of the Conseil Régional of LanguedocRoussillon. He wrote to Bonnet, on behalf of ‘les Maires, les Conseillers Généraux, les Professionnels’ to express their collective ‘stupéfaction’ in the face of the Sud Radio interview. Crouzet’s letter played on the historical animosity the Midi vignerons felt against Paris, as he insisted that Paris was unfairly targeting only those in the region with their push for the grubbing up of vines: ‘C’est là que réside votre erreur! Nos vins sont tous naturels car Letter from Hubert Mouly to Chrisian Bonnet. December 27, 1976. 19920339/5, AN.
Letter from an accountant based in Paris (illegible signature) to Bonnet. December 28, 1976. 19920339/5, AN.
Letter from A. Crouzet to Bonnet. December 28, 1976. 19920339/5, AN.
nous n’avons pas le droit de chaptaliser. Notre région est incontestablement à vocation viticole. Et c’est à elle, une fois de plus, que vous voulez réserver vos coups! C’est elle qui doit supporter les arrachages que vous jugez indispensables, alors qu’il faudrait arracher d’abord en France, les cépages prohibés qui existent toujours.’69 He insisted that there were vines across France that ‘pissent le vin, un vin qui ne mérite même pas son nom’ but that Bonnet, like those Parisian bureaucrats before him in the same position of power, had targeted only the Midi: ‘L’expérience a été tentée; relisez notre histoire viticole depuis 1953, que vos services vous énumerent les expériences abandonnées….Dans tous nos villages les essais ont en lieu, ils ont été lamentables’.70 Crouzet demonstrated his belief in the legitimacy of monoculturalism by insisting that the region’s unique combination of soil and sun could often not produce anything but vines, and, he pressed on, good wine. Above all, it was a heritage that lived in those that worked the vines that gave them both the right to derive their livelihood solely from grape-growing or
wine producing, and the right to demand the support of the government in times of difficulty:
he argued it was ‘le rôle d’un gouvernement… [de] sauver ceux qui travaillent dans les vignes et qui ne vivent que de ce travail.’ After all, ‘le viticulteur est attaché à son vignoble, le vigneron est amoureux de son vin.’71 Crouzet blamed, as many others did, ‘speculative international capital flows’ for the problems – some variant of this phrase was used to pepper many of the letters to Bonnet, and in various newspapers at the time, including Le Midi Libre and La Journée Vinicole. Crouzet had insisted elsewhere that ‘le “bibine” que n’aime pas M. BONNET est achetés à bas prix par le commerce spéculatif pour des coupages économiques avec les vins italiens de haut degré Ibid.
meilleur marché. Le bon vin, y compris souvent les V.D.Q.S., restent dans nos caves et, en fin de campagne, quand la crise est insoluble sont distillés en catastrophe.’72 He insisted that a national wine office with an expanded mandate could change the situation by defending a policy of quality and reining in imports. But the idea of ‘speculation’ was often dropped in like an exciting buzzword and far less often did its users explain how these flows were actually affecting their market. It did make sense, however, for counterparts who produced quality wine who were exposed to external markets. For example, those in Bordeaux, who exported a significant share of France’s quality wine at the time, produced at the time approximately 8% of the total wine in France, but about a third of its AOC wines. Of the wine they produced, approximately 30% was exported out of France, including to within the European Community, and principally to the United States and Germany. At the end of 1972 and into the beginning of 1973, the prices of quality Bordeaux wines underwent a sudden speculative rise, some of them quadrupling within a four week period – then, in the middle of 1973, there was a sudden drop, causing the prices to crash. Bordelais wine leaders publically declared themselves and their wines as ‘the victims of external, international speculation which nowadays can occur via extremely powerful means and in a very brutal fashion.’ But speculation did not occur on table wines. Referring, however, to speculation in the agitated 1970s atmosphere where such a term was charged with tension was a useful way to pull in more listeners who might be snagged by such a term.
Crouzet’s damning reproach at the end of his letter reads, highlighting the expectation on behalf of vignerons that the government act, the sense of Paris being against the Midi, and
ultimately, the answer in the form of a national office of wine:
Ne détruisez pas cette richesse [de vignes de Midi], protégez-la. C’est le rôle d'un gouvernement qui connaît l'économie de son pays et qui refuse de se laisser guider par les Letter from Association de Propagande Pour le Vin to Bonnet. December 24, 1976. 19920339/5, AN.