You are using an old browser that may not function as expected.
For a better, safer browsing experience, please upgrade your browser.

Log in Become a Member

Hardly a day goes by without news of a crisis in the wine regions of France. Not only the Bordelais is affected, but also the Languedoc, the largest vineyard area in the country, but just as much the Rhône or Alsace. One example among many: "Crise: Les vins français détrôné par la concurrence espagnole en 2015". This goes to the honour of the "grande nation" as the leading country in wine production. In seven years it will be toppled from its pedestal. For France, this is far worse than the elimination of the "Bleus" from the European Football Championship. Background: less French wine has been drunk every year since 2000, 2.6 percent less, worldwide. Production is also shrinking. From 53 million hectolitres annually in the period 2000-2004 to only 44 million in 2015.

Headline of 9 July 2008: Wine country France dethroned.

The crisis reports are followed by attempts at explanation. Occasionally, there is even the realisation that quality has to be improved because global competition is not asleep. Far more often, however, the restrictions and regulations are cited, especially those "pour raison de santé publique" (for reasons of public health). There is a lot behind this: from the drastically reduced alcohol limit for car drivers to the ban on selling alcohol to young people to the obligation to declare alcohol in advertising: "L'abus d'alcool est dangereux pour la santé. Consomez avec modération." ("The abuse of alcohol is harmful to health. Drink with moderation"). Soon this or a similar slogan will probably be emblazoned on all wine bottles, similar to what is already on all cigarette packs today. Xavier de Volontat, head of the "Vignerons indépendants" is convinced: "En France, la publicité du vin est très réglementée... Certains pays européens n'ont pas ce genre de contraintes." (In France, the advertising of wine is highly regulated...certain countries have no such restrictions)

But one important cause of the French wine crisis is hardly ever mentioned: bureaucracy. It is often unbearable even for someone who loves France. An exaggerated fidelity to regulations and the letter appears wherever it benefits those directly concerned.

Oenologist Philippe Dupond explains the regulations for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation.

Try doing a small thing quickly at a public office. Hopeless! Hours are to be planned. When I recently had to pay a debt of 30 euros at the "Trésorerie" (tax office), five employees sat behind a glass pane with several counters. They looked impassively at the people waiting and were fully occupied with their computers. At the only open counter, things were slow. When it was finally our turn, the cashier had to work hard for the 30 euros: searching endlessly, filling out many forms and dealing with Webpages.

Even more difficult: getting a telephone connection in our small flat. Although there are many competing telephone and Internet providers in France, only one company can provide the desired connection: Orange. There are free numbers to set this up, but documents have to be presented: so we had to go in person to the nearest Orange office. It is thirty kilometres away. We struggle through the seasonal traffic jam. The sales office and agency is guarded by a strict "Cerberus". He wants to see official documents, for example the French tax bill or the receipt for regular gas and electricity purchases and of course the passport or an identity card. We have the latter with us, but the tax and electricity bills are in order in Switzerland. The large communications company Orange, which could establish our identity with a single telephone, fax or Internet connection, just as it could confirm that we are flat owners, sends us back ruthlessly: entry denied. Our offers to supply the documents later, to call the tax office, the property management or the bank do not help. Nor does the simple logic that we would hardly order a connection for a foreign flat at our own expense (we had to show our French bank account) with the consequence of costs. No: "Come back later!".

We did, three months later. This time we were let into the "hallowed halls". Although we knew exactly what we wanted, the procedure took more than an hour. Forms had to be filled out, confirmations had to be presented, details had to be given, so that we could not find our way out of our amazement. I was prepared to also have to give the shoe size and the measurement of the waistband.

After more than an hour: hurray, we did it. But the rental modem for connecting to the internet is still not there after three weeks. French bureaucracy.

Wine from Château Lafon - now "L'inclassable"

It's a similar story in the wine world. The struggle of the institutions for the "right" classifications in Bordeaux alone provides the best visual lesson. New classifications are created, revoked, reinstated, suspended again. The old St-Emilion classification has just been approved again. The situation is similar for the Crus Bourgeois in the Médoc. By the way, there is a vineyard that was called "Lafon" for decades, but is now no longer allowed to use this name (due to whatever regulations or complaints). The frustrated owner of the long-established family business now calls his wine simply "L'inclassable" (the unclassifiable).

In St-Emilion, part of the famous garage wine "Valandraud" was launched a few years ago as "L'interdit de Valandraud" (the forbidden), as a protest against the appellation's overly narrow regulations.

The Forbidden Vine

Regulations, ordinances, rules, laws are there to guarantee consumers safety, bindingness and quality. In France, however, more than in almost any other wine country, they have become monsters that make life difficult for (almost) everyone. The consumers, who are no longer sure that they are really getting the best quality because of all the rules and regulations; the winegrowers, who are prevented from innovating and punished for even the smallest improvement; the bureaucracy, which is gruellingly time-consuming and expensive. Thus, the market is becoming more and more opaque and the wine nation France complains bitterly: "détrônés par la concurrence".

Those who have to fight their way through French bureaucracy time and again are no longer surprised by such headlines. The first thing that needs to be dethroned is the French bureaucracy.

Yours sincerely
Peter (Züllig)

Related Magazine Articles

View All