Bordeaux winegrowers demand money to uproot vines

As French winemakers struggle with declining exports and increased red tape, Brian McCulloch hears how some are looking to cut their losses altogether

Around nine per cent of Bordeaux vineyards may be lost

Crisis-hit Bordeaux winemakers are waiting on a government decision to let them uproot 9% of vines in the region.

To demonstrate the urgency of the situation, the industry staged a protest in the city centre in December, with several hundred attending.

Read more: A brief guide to French wine regions

It was the first protest by winemakers since 2004, when the global economic crisis after the burst dot-com bubble had a knock-on effect on business.

Christophe Chateau, spokesman for the Bordeaux wine trade council CIVB, told The Connexion: “We have laid out all our arguments to the government over a year, without anything happening, which is why the protest went ahead.

“European Union Common Agricultural Policy rules since 2008 have banned subsidies to tear up vineyards, but there are ways the government can meet our demands using regional aid development programmes or environmental conversion grants.”

Interest in converting former vineyards for solar electricity generation

Traditionally, the area has also been known for cattle and sheep farming, but there is interest in former vineyards being used for solar panel electricity generation – one of France’s largest photovoltaic electricity production sites is north of Bordeaux.

The protest was called by a winegrowers union, but the CIVB supported it and sent an official delegation.

They want to see a €10,000 subsidy per hectare to uproot vines, which will include the physical work, costing around €2,000 a hectare, and reconversion costs.

Around 9,000 of the 100,000 hectares in the Bordeaux regulated region might be affected.

The crisis has not affected the top Bordeaux chateaux, which sell bottles of wine for prices that can reach thousands of euros, and where rich investors continue to pay tens of millions for domaines.

The most famous domaines have largely escaped the crisis Pic: : UfaBizPhoto / Shutterstock

The region has seen that select group detach itself from the collection of less well-known vineyards trailing behind, leaving some in difficulty.

There is no single reason for the current problems

Some businesses had built and expanded on the back of the Chinese market, where good quality wines from Bordeaux’s small producers were very popular.

They have been hard hit by the collapse in exports due to China’s economic difficulties and tough anti-Covid measures.

Meanwhile, attempts to expand into other markets, such as the US and Britain, have been hampered by taxes on French wine imposed by Donald Trump, which have still not been completely lifted.

Brexit has made exports to the UK complicated.

Hail and late frosts have also affected some winemakers.

Other domaines with lower quality vines have been hit by the slow decline in wine-drinking in France.

French people consumed an average 42 litres of wine in 2021, down from 54 litres in 2003, according to Statista.

At the same time, they have moved towards higher quality wines.

Read more: Pro-wine President Macron pleases industry but upsets doctors

Another reason why plans to uproot vines have gained traction is to do with the demographic of vineyard owners.

Half of those in the Bordeaux region are over 50 years old. With low pensions coming to them of around €700 a month, many planned to sell their vines and businesses to help them in retirement, but find there are no buyers.

Worse, some who rented out vines when they retired have found that the renters are not renewing contracts, which means they have to go back to work themselves to keep the vines in good condition.

Prices of vineyards vary greatly, depending on the quality of the wine produced, the methods used to sell it, and the state of equipment included in the sale.

In the Entre-deux-Mers region between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, where there are many small producers, specialist agencies say the usual asking price is around €15,000 a hectare, with €18,000 being asked for exceptional properties.

Most buyers, however, make offers of around €10,000 a hectare.

The government’s rural estate agency, the Sociétés d’aménagement foncier et d’établissement rural (Safer), has “several hundred” Bordeaux vineyards on its books, but admits that prices being offered are sometimes not acceptable to sellers.

Its website, propriété, was listing 19 vineyards in mid-December, with prices ranging from €180,000 for 18 hectares in Entredeux-Mers through to €5.8million for 62 hectares at Lussac in the Saint-Emilion region.

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