French winemakers staged a massive protest this week against the importation of Spanish wine, citing unfair competition in the domestic market. The local market already faces difficulties with a surplus of wine. Around 500 protesters gathered near the French border town of Boulou, where they stopped several trucks carrying Spanish wine and proceeded to destroy their cargo. More than 240 hectoliters of Spanish rosé were poured onto the road, and 10,000 bottles of Spanish sparkling wine were smashed.
The demonstrators are claiming that French winemakers are suffering losses due to the influx of cheap Spanish wine into the market. They argue that the issue lies with the price difference between the two countries. As one 79-year-old French winegrower explained, the Spanish have lower production costs and can use more chemicals on their vines, resulting in a cheaper end product. Spanish wine costs half as much as French wine, creating an unfair advantage for Spanish producers.
Aude wine union leader Frederic Rouanet pledged to continue the protests, with a major mobilization of winemakers planned for the end of November. He stated that they will stop Spanish imports and declared it the start of an economic war.
Prior to the mass protest, French wine growers met in Ferrals-des-Corbieres to address the crisis in the industry, which they believe is the worst in about two decades. The union prepared a letter to be sent to French wine merchants and importers, calling for a complete halt in purchasing wine from other regions or abroad until local wines are sold at a fair price.
France, renowned for its centuries-old winemaking traditions, has been struggling with a surplus of wine due to a strong harvest in 2022 and reduced consumption caused by rising inflation. To address this issue, the French government introduced a plan in August to allocate €200 million ($216 million) to destroy excess wine and have also offered financial incentives to encourage wine growers to switch to other products.
The decline in wine demand is not limited to France alone. The European Commission reported in June that wine consumption had fallen by 15% in France, as well as by 7% in Italy, 10% in Spain, 22% in Germany, and 34% in Portugal. EU wine exports have also experienced a decline, with cross-border sales dropping by 8.5% between January and April 2023 compared to the same period the previous year.
Some analysts speculate that the decrease in EU wine exports can be attributed in part to the Ukraine-related sanctions that the European Union imposed on Russia, banning wine sales exceeding €300 per bottle. As a consequence, Spain and Italy, which were Russia’s top wine suppliers in 2022, have been replaced by Lithuania and Georgia this year.
The situation in the French wine industry, coupled with the challenges faced by other European countries, highlights the impact of global factors on the wine market. The protests in France illustrate the concerns of winemakers who are struggling to compete with cheaper imports, posing a risk of bankruptcies and further economic consequences. The industry’s future will depend on finding solutions that balance fair competition and support local producers.