Their banner messages were clear: “grub up to save lives”, “so many good wines and no bread to eat”; and “1,000 fewer growers equals 10,000 more unemployed”. According to The Telegraph newspaper, it was the biggest demonstration seen in Bordeaux for almost 20 years.
"Grub up to save lives."
The problems facing Bordeaux’s wine sector are many, from overproduction, to reduced demand from China as wealthy drinkers turn to Burgundy, to the ravages of climate change. More consumers switching to white wines has also hurt, as 85% of Bordeaux’s grape production is red.
Changing drinking patterns in France itself aren’t helping—consumption has fallen from 120 L per capita 60 years ago, to a mere 40 L today.
Vignerons called for grubbing-up in 2019, but the demand was rejected by the Syndicat des Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur. After being hit by the added pressures of Covid and punitive U.S. tariffs, the sector asked again in 2020.
In spring 2022, Bernard Farges, then president of the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB), called for grubbing-up at a public meeting and formed a winegrowers' collective. The current president, Allan Sichel, is now taking this up and asking the government for financial support to clear 10,000 hectares of vineyards.
Subsidies necessary, but difficult
Speaking to the French newspaper Sud Ouest, Sichel stressed, “The cost of grubbing up is high (about €2,000 per ha) and a winemaker cannot let his land lie fallow. For those who close their winery, the government subsidy would work like a ‘national social plan’; for others, it could help convert their land to a different use.”
As of the agriculture policy reforms of 2008, however, Europe no longer subsidizes grubbing-up. This means the French state could not compensate Bordeaux winegrowers for the loss of their vines, Sichel explained.
500 winegrowers desperate and without hope
At present, he said, about 400m litres of wine are available on the market; this represents 80% or more of the average annual production of 430-500m litres.
Sichel says the need for action is urgent.
“Ten percent of the trade is going badly,” he said. “Ten percent of the vineyards, production and winemakers have massive difficulties. This corresponds to 500 winemakers who are desperate and without hope.”
The winegrowers' collective is asking for government support of €10,000 per hectare. By comparison, in 2006, producers received a subsidy of €15,000 per hectare.
Sichel hopes that clearing the surplus vineyard land will allow winemakers to rebalance production, recover and better position themselves for future markets. This likely includes diversifying the product line. “Crémant de Bordeaux is currently sold out,” he noted. ITP