French winemakers destroy a shipment of tomatoes coming from Spain during a demonstration by the tollbooth in Le Boulou, near the Spanish border, south of France, 19 October 2023. Winegrowers and winemakers from south of France are protesting against the introduction of Spanish wines. EPA-EFE/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO


Grapes of wrath: French winegrowers destroy Spanish rivals’ imports


Angry winegrowers in France blocked lorries coming from Spain and destroyed the wine they were carrying, claiming the cheaper imports are destroying the local market.

In the economic border dispute similar to that which erupted over Ukrainian grain, French winemakers took the law into their own hands, and their protestations turned violent.

A crowd of more than 500 smashed hundreds of crates of cava, destroying some 10,000 bottles and dumping litres of wine at the border town of Boulou. The French winemakers said the cheap foreign version was a form of unfair competition and made it more difficult to sell their own.

Frédéric Rouanet, leader of a local syndicate for winegrowers who organised the unrest, was quoted saying: “Starting from today, we are going to remove the possibility of buyers being able to get cheap wines from elsewhere … we are going to stop Spanish imports.

“This is the start of an economic war that we are going to wage.”

Rouanet promised more action. “Let it be known to Paris that we, the honest workers that we are, have decided to revolt! That the government’s deaf ear is just a bomb ready to explode!”

In reaction to the dispute, a European Commission spokeswoman told Brussels Signal: “Free movement of goods is a fundamental principle of the internal market.”

She added: “When an obstacle occurs, the Member State concerned must take all necessary and proportionate measures to ensure the free movement of goods in its territory, in accordance with EU Treaty obligations.”

The spokesman told Brussels Signal the EC requested the French authorities on October 20 to provide information about the incident.

The EC demanded, as soon as possible, “more information about the measures the French Government adopted or intended to adopt in order to facilitate the free movement of goods”, he said.

“The Commission will assess France’s reply and will take the appropriate measures.”

In June, the EC adopted exceptional market measures to support EU wine producers but, apparently, that is not enough for the French winegrowers.

One was cited by Le Parisien on October 20 as saying: “The Spaniards have minimum levies and they have the right to put any chemicals they want on their vines, while we are entitled to nothing.”

The French winegrowers have suffered a steep increase in costs as inflation has soared.

According to Rouanet, some have seen their costs quadruple, with the price of diesel alone rising 180 per cent.

That has meant Spanish wine is now sold at half the price of French.

There has also been a significant fall in French wine consumption and sales, both in supermarkets and restaurants.

In 2022, France imported more than six million hectolitres of wine, according to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine. A hectolitre is equivalent to 100 litres.