Anti-wine laws

Usually editorials in wine magazines are devoted to fairly safe topics. Somewhat cynically, I started thinking that marketing driven pieces like "what to drink this Autumn!" might be typical. Facts though are usually more fun than unfair generalisations, so I thought I'd check. In Gourmet Traveller Wine's February/March 2011 edition, the first line was "My new year's resolution is to find a way of keeping track of wayward wine writers who by nature and necessity don't remain in one spot for long". Sir, will you fetch me your smallest violin? Yes, it needs to be very small indeed. Decanter was a little better with their April 2011 editorial headed "Let the wine do the talking" and discusses Decanter man of the year in 2011, Giacomo Tachis.

France's La Revue du Vin de France has editorialised some of the more challenging issues facing France's wine industry. Some of these are of interest to the wider wine community. The latest from their March 2011 edition is their continuing commentary on the struggle with France's declining wine consumption, and "anti-wine laws". On the former, rather controversially I imagine, declining wine consumption is contrasted with perceived rising demand for anti-depressants, and alleged conflicts of interest between key actors. Here's the article (and in English). A translated exerpt is as follows:

"A quick recap of recent history: we saw in France during the past decade an explosion of unprecedented violence against wine, those who produce it, those who sell it and those who drink it. It is a denigration that we have seen neither in Spain nor in Italy, our two neighboring producers, or in any other country in the world. There has been a public campaign of statements equating wine with death (2004). Then there were statements of a Director General of Health, which called for total abstinence to better fight against alcoholism (2006). The Chairman of the INCA [a health body], Professor Maraninchi, then stated that "wine is carcinogenic from the first glass" (2009). All this is against a backdrop of the "Evin law" [see below], the logo "dangerous for pregnant women", pursuit of bistros, lobbying against the advertising of wine on the internet, etc.. Since 1960, wine consumption has fallen by more than half in our country ..."

The "Evin law" is intended to regulate alcohol advertising in France. A summary of this French law (from Jane Anson's New Bordeaux) is:

* no advertising should be targeted at young people;
* all drinks over 1.2 per cent alcohol by volume are considered as alcoholic beverages. Places and media where advertising is authorised are defined;
* no advertising is allowed on television or in cinemas;
* no sponsorship of cultural or sport events is permitted;
* advertising is permitted only in the press for adults, on billboards, on radio channels (under precise conditions), at special events or places such as wine fairs, wine museums. When advertising is permitted, its content is controlled messages and images should refer only to the qualities of the products such as degree, origin, composition, means of production, patterns of consumption; and
* a health message must be included on each advertisement to the effect that l’abus d’alcool est dangereux pour la santé : alcohol abuse is dangerous for health.

I am not a doctor or even a scientist, so I cannot really sensibly comment on the merits of the health debate. I am also, perhaps like our French editor, hopelessly biased because I like wine. Some of the points appear valid to my common sense: eg the proven pregnancy related medical ones, and drinking too much, which I inexplicably painfully choose to verify from time to time, is not particularly smart. However, I have sympathy for the editor's approach in thinking that some of the more extreme measures, at least by Australian standards, are surprising given France's perhaps pre-eminent position as a wine producer, and its contribution to the culture of wine. In Australia, we have our own set of "wine laws" around the advertisement, the manufacture, labelling and sale of wine and medical warnings, particularly around alcohol and pregnancy. We also have high local wine taxes and duties, particularly in the form of the wine equalisation tax, seeking to financially punish those silly enough to enjoy wine as a cultural product. Or at least that's what I tell myself. High wine taxes are something that France does not yet seem to enjoy, at least based on my own anecdotal observations of per bottle retail shelf prices. These always contrast favourably with the sometimes staggering prices (of imports) we see in Australia. For example, check out Nicholas or Lavinia, neither of which are cheap in France, where most wine is sold in the hypermarchés. That said, I am told that France is taking up Australia's (or should I say Victoria's) fondness for speed cameras, so who knows: on the logic above, wine taxes might be next.

It doesn't seem that we have faced in Australia an anti-wine agenda of this kind, at least in recent memory (and putting to one side the prohibition debates of the twentieth century). And I hope we don't. But unfortunately regulatory developments coming out of Europe have a habit of generally finding their way here, eventually, and sometimes with unexpected distortions picked up along the way. Everything in moderation, including moderation, I would suggest.

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