24-05-2017

New wine protest in le Boulou at the French-Spanish border

Heading north from Barcelona Airport, I was greeted to the signs as seen above warning that there was going to be a “manifestation” or protest by the Southern French winemakers on the 23rd of May. This wouldn’t have been a problem except that I needed to go through where they were protesting on the 23rd given that le Boulou is the first toll gate after the French-Spanish border.

Sure enough, a convoy of some 300 winemakers showed up at 7:30 and ran amok (photo to the left from La Depeche) with the French police looking up, nonplussed while traffic backed up for endless kilometers. At 1:30, they fully stopped all traffic, despite what the AFP (French news wire) is saying and it it did not disperse quickly.

I waited it out as long as I could, but I needed to get to a meeting in Perpignan and this other event up by Narbonne. So, I ended up taking the lower, old highway only to see a massive line of cars and trucks stopped above on the proper highway. The protesters had indeed made a statement. I might add that I am no stranger to such protests, having been stuck on the TGV when farmers dumped carrots on the tracks.

But what is their statement? It’s the same one that they’ve been fighting for, for some time now which is that incredibly cheap Spanish wine is coming in to France (at something like 0.20€/l), being labeled with a “Frenchy” name and despite saying, “Vin d’Espagne” on a back label, it misleads customers and at prices no French winery can compete with.

These are all valid points but the irony in this is that the winemakers involved in this protest are those of Languedoc, not Roussillon which is the region that actually does sit at the border. Anyone who studies wine will know these two as Languedoc-Roussillon as they’re always set together, but they are quite different from one another, especially in the fact that Languedoc has historically been France’s cheap wine emporium.

So yes, the Spanish imports are indeed hurting Languedoc producers, but historically they were probably hurting other regions in France who then ultimately took the higher road of producing quality wines, something that the producers in the region are only starting to come to grips with. Because ultimately, if you’re just worried about chasing the bottom line in wine, you can scream and shut down as many highways as you want, someone will always come along to produce something cheaper. For most people who just want, “wine”, price is all that matters.