Winegrowers in France call for support despite good harvest

Professional winegrowers in the south of France are calling for industry support, faced with challenges linked to Covid, Brexit, and beyond - despite 2020 being hailed as a great harvest year.

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Wine harvests are beginning to end across Occitanie in south France, with this year being described as “extremely exceptional”, amid a respectable harvest amount of 3.5-4million hectolitres.

Frédéric Rouanet, president of the winemakers’ union in the Aude department, told local news source France 3: “The quality of the new vintage looks extremely exceptional. It was very hot as they were ripening, which allowed the grapes to develop their flavours. The quality is very consistent.”

Ludovic Roux, regional representative of union Coopératives de France, agreed. He said that while “it has been difficult for some”, due to weather issues such as “late frost, hail, high rainfall in spring which caused mildew to attack”, he concluded that “overall, we are going to have a very beautiful year”.

Covid-19 issues

Despite the good harvest, the groups are worried that the Covid-19 pandemic - including the knock-on effects of confinement, plus continued restrictions and fears over imminent hospitality closures - could have a negative effect on the industry.

Mr Rouanet said: “During and since confinement, we are selling half the usual volume to cafes and restaurants. Exports have also halved compared to September 2019.”

During confinement in Spring, the wine industry received support from the state, as all bars and restaurants closed and sales plummeted.

Mr Rouanet said: “That is why we had to act very quickly during confinement. We saw stocks that were not shifting, and we knew we had to heal the market before starting the new harvest.”

Crisis measures were put in place, allowing the winemakers to sell their grape juice without losing too much money and to continue to produce alcohol, and make space for the new harvest.

Forthcoming problems

But the industry is now calling for more acknowledgement and support of the issues that it continues to face.

The issues come after the US imposed sanctions on French wine in retaliation for the EU subsidies given to aviation giant Airbus, including a 25% tax on French (and German and Spanish) wine.

Confinement due to Covid-19 - first in China, and then in Europe and worldwide - also significantly affected sales worldwide, from the end of 2019 until well into 2020. Now, as President Macron warns of stricter measures against Covid, and bars in Paris, the Bouches-du-Rhone, and beyond close, the crisis appears far from over.

Read more: France to impose stricter measures amid record Covid cases

Mr Rouanet said: “We need to restart the economy so that people can consume our products. In the Aude, professional restaurant associations and winemaking are working with the prefecture. We absolutely want to avoid new restrictions on bars and restaurants, but if the situation gets worse, the prefect may have no choice.”

There is also a fear that the annual winemaker and wine salons, festivals and exhibitions could be cancelled, which, according to Mr Rouanet, make up 28% of annual business, and are “crucial for the sector”.

He said: “In October and November, each year, I usually have six wine salons. Individuals usually make their purchases for the year. If the salons are cancelled, it will represent a loss of €100,000. If I don’t have this money, the next three or four months could be catastrophic.”

Mr Roux added that while “only around 10% of cooperatives in the region are in an urgent financial situation” and are “still holding on”, he said that the sector would still need more support in the coming months.

Further uncertainty with Covid-19, along with the forthcoming US election and the consequences of a possible no-deal Brexit, are also on the horizon.

Mr Roux said: “We need help to stay afloat in the coming months. We need mechanisms to allow us to lower our fees, and we need the banks to be understanding, perhaps some taxes written off...because winemakers do not have the means to just not sell wine for two years. The coffers will not hold out.”

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