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Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The future looks rosé for French wine

Unexpectedly perhaps France has won its battle with most of the rest of the 27-nation European Union to prevent the introduction of proposals that would have seen a change to the traditional way in which rosé wine is made in Europe.

On Monday the European agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, said that Brussels was abandoning plans to adopt the "blending" practice, or simple mixing of red and white wines, used by producers in some other parts of the world.

France, and in particular the powerful wine producing lobby in this country, had wanted the existing method of production to remain "as is" and had maintained that any change would seriously pose a threat to both the traditional way of making rosé wine and livelihoods.

The dispute had pitted France against a majority of the other EU members who had collectively agreed in principle in January with the Commission directive.

In April though, bowing to French pressure, Fischer Boel agreed to review the proposals before taking a final decision.

At the time the French agriculture minister, Michel Barnier, remained hopeful that a compromise of some sort could be found even though he admitted that the chances of France "winning" were slim.

"It's true that we're somewhat isolated in our stance to wish to preserve the traditional methods whereas the majority of our partners favour authorising blending," he said.

"We're perhaps on out own here, but I hope that at least there'll be a change of heart and an agreement can be reached."

In the end though the arguments of both the French and Italians, the two largest producers of rosé wine in the EU, "won the day" with Fischer Boel apparently taking on board the arguments of both countries.

"It's important that we listen to our producers when they are concerned about changes to the regulations," she said in a statement.

"It has become clear over recent weeks that a majority in our wine sector believe that ending the ban on blending could undermine the image of traditional rose.

While maintaining tradition might well have played its part in the EU's decision to drop the proposals, economic factors were probably also taken into account.

Rosé wine consumption is up - both at here in France and abroad - and has seen a steady rise over the last 15 years.

Heading the list of rosé wine producers are three European countries, all of which use the traditional method; France - 29 per cent of the global production at 5.9 million hectolitres, followed by Italy and Spain with 4.5 million and 3.8 million hectolitres respectively.

"Common sense has prevailed," said Roque Pertusa, the president of the Fédération des caves coopératives du Var in the south of the country.

"Full liberalisation just to try to compete with countries outside of Europe wouldn't have been a good idea," he added.

"It wouldn't have been worth it to put 30 years worth of work at risk to try to compete with the two million hectolitres of (blended) wine that enter the EU every year."

Santé, as they would say here in France.

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