Bordeaux grapegrowers are planning to tear out almost 23,500 acres of vines—and they're thrilled. After nine months of negotiations with local, regional and national government representatives, on March 1 the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB) reached an agreement with Marc Fesneau, France's minister of agriculture and food sovereignty, for financing the vine pull. These uprooting efforts will allow struggling growers to find new uses for their land and hopefully end a perpetual surplus of low-cost Bordeaux wines.
They want to pull up their vines?
Yes, because Bordeaux doesn't just produce some of the world's best wines, it also produces an ocean of value-priced bottlings. In the years after World War II, the average French adult drank 150 liters of wine per year, mainly red table wine. Today they consume 40 liters, or four-and-a-half cases, per year. Over the last five years, Bordeaux's only been selling 440 million cases out of average annual crops around 480 million cases. Every year, a surplus of wine accumulates and growers sink further into debt.
The growers asked for money to help pull out their vines, but since 2008, European Union laws have forbidden the use of government funding to take agricultural land out of production. In recent months, protests have been staged by vignerons, growers who often work for less than minimum wage and have little to no retirement savings.
In February, the French government approved funding for emergency distillation of surplus wine into industrial alcohol. But growers complained it was a stopgap solution, only suitable for vignerons suffering from a temporary lull in demand, due to the pandemic or cost of living crises, who don’t want to rip up their vines.
A question of language
Announcing the March 1 agreement, Fesneau said, "I salute the consultation work carried out for the last several months, with the Gironde wine industry and the region, to find lasting solutions to the crisis in the sector and to manage the sector's phytosanitary issues in the territory."
The key word to unlocking a solution was "phytosanitary." While EU law forbids funding vine removal when the reasons are economic in nature, the law does allow the funding of uprooting when vines face plant health issues. With growers looking at bankruptcy, Bordeaux could have ended up with thousands of acres of abandoned vineyards. "We're in a situation where if the vines aren't maintained and treated, there will be diseases, which will spread to the neighboring vines," said Christophe Chateau, spokesperson for the CIVB. In addition to pests, diseases such as the pernicious flavescence dorée and the red leaf virus flourish in neglected vineyards.
What's in the deal?
In this new package, Bordeaux growers in need will be able to access up to €38 million from the government and €19 million from the CIVB. The Nouvelle-Aquitaine region has put up an additional €10 million for the conversion to other crops. The CIVB has already begun a project with forestry organization Alliance Forêt Bois to reforest more than 4,500 acres of abandoned vines.
Growers will receive a minimum of €6,000 per hectare (or about €2,400 per acre) to cover costs. This is less than the €10,000 per hectare initially demanded, but vignerons can receive additional funding to convert their land to carbon capture, reforest it or restructure it to grow new crops.
The new agreement needs to be voted on by the general assembly of the CIVB. It's expected to pass without difficulty, and over the next few weeks, the process for submitting applications will take shape. "I think the program for pulling up the vines will start in the winter of 2023–2024," said Chateau. "It's great news."
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