It’s a race to the bottom. Now that winemakers from the Languedoc-Roussillon have received a generous handout from the French government, their confrères from the Rhône are feeling piqued. The year « just starting is difficult, even catastophic« , according to La Provence, a local paper. After a dream run from 2003 to 2007, this last year was a challenge with major rain and reduced yields. But even before that, things were rough down here.

But is more aid the answer? Everyone dodges this question in France, as subvention is in the blood; everyone seems to be on some sort of rort. The worst hit are winegrowers in the coops, many of which are struggling with plummeting sales. Thousands of growers have been in cooperative structures so long that they know no other way, and couldn’t make wine for themselves. It must be very frustrating. Reliance on the largesse of others eventually creates a profound sense of your own legitimacy, and we hear endless arguments about their role in maintaining landscapes and traditions, the perfidious Australians and South Americans and their unfair competition (anything which competes with France is unfair) and the French State which in its struggle with alcoholism is attempting simply to kill off the industry.

The problem is that no-one wants their wine any more, full stop.

But I know winemakers who are out there making and promoting their wine and who are surviving or better. Many would love some more grapes, but cannot expand for lack of cash or facilities. Bankers are not lining up to help them. And for those who just grow and deliver grapes to coops but would jump at the chance to make their own wine, perhaps the government could fund start-up facilities like those in California which lease space, vats, barrels and expertise to wanabee Petrus makers. Dreams…

There will be demonstrations, a few burning tyres and then a flow of cash to allow the growers to continue churning out fruit at a loss which will be sold for a loss or not at all.

To stop this race to the bottom, we have to drink interesting wines from small growers who make their own with enthusiasm and brilliance. If we can get it. And that is the real problem.

Lincoln in Sablet
Pic: carte postale 100 years ago, in 1908