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Wine, protest and Macron: why southern French wine producers are so angry

The vinuous terrorists of Languedoc-Roussillon are combating changing French drinking habits and a new chairwoman as they seek to preserve the regions traditions

Europe

There is no love for legislators among the winemakers of the Languedoc-Roussillon. But in the vast stretch of vineyard that embraces the south of France from the Rhne in the east down to the Spanish border, complain and disagreement are as much a part of life as ptanque and vin rouge.

Its a sentiment with a long tradition. Just over a century ago, in the spring and early summertime of 1907, the Midis wine industry was at the centre of one of the most violent eruptions of civil unrest in the countrys modern history, as angry crowd in the hundreds of thousands brought the region to a standstill, battling with the army and railing against what the hell is read as neglect from Paris after sales of local wine had collapsed in the face of rival from Algeria and adulterated wines from elsewhere in France.

The five people who died during the rioting and street fighting of 1907 are part of the myth of the most controversial contemporary incarnation of the Midi vigneron rebel spirit, the militant group Comit Rgional dAction Viticole. This secretive alliance of disenfranchised wine producers has been active since the 1960 s, carrying on business as sporadic attempts on political offices, supermarkets and wine producers ever since.

In the past year, nonetheless, the two attacks have become more frequent, with the group claiming persons responsible for among other acts of complain, arson and sabotage ransack and burning the offices of local bulk wine supplier Sudvin; emptying vats at another distributor, Biron, in the Languedoc fishing port of Ste; and dumping 25,000 litres of Spanish wine in a supermarket car park. According to French wine trade website Vitisphere, last month the group was planning an even larger attempt, this time on several bulk wine distributors in Bordeaux, before being intercepted on the motorway between Toulouse and Bordeaux by police.

The wider wine trade , not least in Britain, has a tendency to reject these balaclava-clad rebels as posturing, dangerous dinosaurs, with a define of impossible-to-meet demands. But their actions are rooted in a form of desperation with which its hard not to feel some empathy and which is widely shared in a region where a protest march depicted thousands of winemakers to the streets of Narbonne earlier this year.

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French winemakers empty a Spanish trucks tanker on April 4, 2016 in Le Boulon, ten kilometers from the French-Spanish perimeter. Photograph: Raymond Roig/ AFP/ Getty Images

Right now, the main target of the rage of peaceful protesters and self-styled vinous terrorists alike is the Spanish bulk wine industry, where lower production costs( including lower taxation and social insurance contributions for employers) make it much easier to turning a profit from wines cheapest terminate. The ensue, the rebels say, is a flood of inexpensive Spanish imports on French supermarket shelves with little show of their origin, and at considerably lower costs than producers in Languedoc-Roussillon can compete with.

If theres a measure of anti-globalist rage to all this( and to the threats to block a stage of the Tour de France through the region last year over its is linked to Chilean wine brand Cono Sur ), the roots of the present southern crise viticole go much deeper. Simply threw, too many vignerons in the Midi have never come fully to terms with the dramatic changes in wine intake of the past 50 years, changes which have realise fewer French people drink wine, and those that do boozing considerably less( a autumn from 160 litres per head annually in the 1960 s to more like 50 litres now) and of much better quality than the traditional Midi co-op could offer. At the same day, the rise of New World wine has stimulated export markets such as the UK more competitive, while the flow of EU emergency subsidies for fighting vignerons has all but dried up since reforms around the turn of the decade.

The solution of the latest legislator to alienate the Midis winemakers the president-cum-CEO Emmanuel Macron would be for winemakers to envision and act more like a start-up, tailoring their product to modern tastes and necessities. And in fact, Languedoc-Roussillon already has such producers.

Some, such as Jean-Claude Mas and ex-international rugby player Grard Bertrand, take advantage of the looser winemaking laws of the region-wide IGP Pays dOc appellation to attain excellent value wines from grapes sourced from growers in the whole region. Others, often the sons or daughters of growers who once sold their stock to co-operatives, have followed the instance of trailblazers such as the Guibert family of Mas de Daumas Gassac in Aniane in the Languedoc or Grard Gauby of Le Soula in Calce in the Roussillon, constructing genuinely fine, terroir-driven wines.

As good and exciting as these wines are, however, “theres only” so many alcoholics in France and elsewhere prepared to buy them. And in individual regions where wine is still the main source of operate, and unemployment in some departements touchings 20%, the rage that drives CRAV and other protesters is unlikely to go away any time soon.

Six of the best from Laungedoc-Roussillon

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Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

Jean Claude Mas French Estate Organic White Blend , IGP Pays dOc, France 2016( 6.99, Aldi)

Jean-Claude Mas is astonishingly prolific, making a huge scope of affordable wines that ever deliver on fruit and character. This fruit-salad of a dry white brings a make of stone fruit ripeness balanced with fresh floral notes: a great summertime party wine.

Grard Bertrand Minervois , France 2015( 7.49 until 12 Aug, then 9.99, Waitrose)

Ex-international rugby player Grard Bertrands Languedoc empire is one of the most consistent in the Languedoc-Roussillon, and this red from the Languedoc appellation Minervois is just brilliant value on the give price, all rippling brambly fruit and spice.

Domaine Gayda Syrah , IGP Pays dOc, France 2015( from 9.95, slurp.co.uk; cambridgewine.com; hhandc.co.uk; harperwells.com)

From an ever-reliable modern Languedoc domaine, this is again splendid value for a syrah of real purity that matches pricier northern Rhne versions of the grape for floral brightness, supple red and black fruit and pepper-spiced meatiness.

Domaine La Toupie Petit Salto Blanc , Ctes du Roussillon, France 2015( 11.50, joiedevin.co.uk)

Roussillons reputation for wine may be built on its facility with big-boned, structured maroons, but its whites can be brilliantly original and food-friendly. Attained from grenache gris with a sprint of macabeo, this one mixes fleshy peach with appetising chalky textue and salty minerals.

Domaine dAuphillac Montpeyroux Rouge , France 2014( from 20, josephbarneswines.com; lescaves.co.uk; handford.net)

The Fadat family domaine sits across the river Hrault from the fabled Languedoc fine-wine pioneer Mas de Daumas Gassac, and its wines are every bit as rewarding and evocative: herby, darkly fruited, layered but pulsing with energy and salty liquorice.

Domaine La Tour Vieille La Pinde , Collioure, France 2015( 16.50, yapp.co.uk)

In a coastal part of Roussillon with a grand tradition of inducing sweet fortified wines, Domaine La Tour Vieille has adapted impressively to the modern craving for dry colours and whites, inducing fragrant but deep reds with a whiff of the sea and gorgeous ripe berry fruit such as this.

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ lifeandstyle/ 2017/ jul/ 16/ wine-protest-macron-languedoc-roussillon-france-vinuous-terrorists