Bordeaux in crisis

Bordeaux is in crisis, with many of the region's small wine producers staring bankruptcy in the face. Only the very top producers, whose snob appeal ensures the marketability of their product, are immune from the financial distress. A few innovators, including one profiled by the New York Times, are struggling to change, but are hindered by government regulation of minute details, and by the snobbery of their neighbors, distributors and competitors.

In a fairly lengthy article on the situation, the New York Times could not find the space for the merest mention of the American boycott of French goods. To be sure, the Times mentions the radical decline of sales to America, but attributes it to the strength of the Euro and the rise of Australian and Chilean imports. Strangely enough, no comparison is drawn to the exports of Italy, a Coalition partner, whose Euro—denominated wine sales to America remain strong.

All the news that fits their prejudices.

The Times does report on the reactions of the Bordeaux small producers. Sensibly, they have requested a relaxation of the archaic regulations which have stifled innovation. Stupidly, they are requesting government—imposed floor prices, and even government purchases of surplus product until the markets recover, as if that will ever happen. This amounts to denial of the fact that the new competition from fine winemakers all over the world is only going to intensify.

The brutal truth is that France is by no means the best place in the world to grow wine grapes. There are places where the combination of soil and climate (in good years) can produce excellent wine. And the accumulation of traditional expertise, along with the extra care taken by growers able to get high prices, due to government designation as premier cru pricers, or via prestige appellation, has paid off in excellent wines. In good years.

But the past few decades have seen other wine producing regions taking seriously the project of making superb wine. California was the first New World region to really try hard to make excellent wine, and we all know the result. Australia, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Oregon, Washington, and many other promising areas are all following suit. The University of California, Davis has become the world's center of wine making research, while California State University, Fresno is producing excellently—trained winemakers. The French have no monopoly at all in wine making technique. They are, in fact, due to exaggerated pride and stultifying regulation, followers.

The French wine industry has been living off its past for far too long, and far too many French producers have cranked out mediocre or worse wine, expecting ignorant consumers to continue to irrationally prefer French products. There ARE some good French wines, if you care to pay the prices. But for my money, much better products are available elsewhere. Some rising producers in the less—prestigious French regions like Languedoc and Corsica, comparatively scorned by the Paris snobs, produce interesting wines at good value. Interestingly enough, after sometimes violent protests, America's Gallo has entered Languedoc, and will soon be offering reasonably—priced French product, likely of superior quality, to consumers around the world, French and non—French alike. Nobody outdoes Gallo when it comes to harnessing vast capital to technological and marketing skills of the highest order, although Australia's big producers are, as the French would say, formidable.

The wine industry, so dear to French national identity, is a microcosm of the problems of French society, government, and economy.

Thomas Lifson, the editor of The American Thinker, is also a partner Sunset Cellars, a California producer of award—winning wines.

Bordeaux is in crisis, with many of the region's small wine producers staring bankruptcy in the face. Only the very top producers, whose snob appeal ensures the marketability of their product, are immune from the financial distress. A few innovators, including one profiled by the New York Times, are struggling to change, but are hindered by government regulation of minute details, and by the snobbery of their neighbors, distributors and competitors.

In a fairly lengthy article on the situation, the New York Times could not find the space for the merest mention of the American boycott of French goods. To be sure, the Times mentions the radical decline of sales to America, but attributes it to the strength of the Euro and the rise of Australian and Chilean imports. Strangely enough, no comparison is drawn to the exports of Italy, a Coalition partner, whose Euro—denominated wine sales to America remain strong.

All the news that fits their prejudices.

The Times does report on the reactions of the Bordeaux small producers. Sensibly, they have requested a relaxation of the archaic regulations which have stifled innovation. Stupidly, they are requesting government—imposed floor prices, and even government purchases of surplus product until the markets recover, as if that will ever happen. This amounts to denial of the fact that the new competition from fine winemakers all over the world is only going to intensify.

The brutal truth is that France is by no means the best place in the world to grow wine grapes. There are places where the combination of soil and climate (in good years) can produce excellent wine. And the accumulation of traditional expertise, along with the extra care taken by growers able to get high prices, due to government designation as premier cru pricers, or via prestige appellation, has paid off in excellent wines. In good years.

But the past few decades have seen other wine producing regions taking seriously the project of making superb wine. California was the first New World region to really try hard to make excellent wine, and we all know the result. Australia, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Oregon, Washington, and many other promising areas are all following suit. The University of California, Davis has become the world's center of wine making research, while California State University, Fresno is producing excellently—trained winemakers. The French have no monopoly at all in wine making technique. They are, in fact, due to exaggerated pride and stultifying regulation, followers.

The French wine industry has been living off its past for far too long, and far too many French producers have cranked out mediocre or worse wine, expecting ignorant consumers to continue to irrationally prefer French products. There ARE some good French wines, if you care to pay the prices. But for my money, much better products are available elsewhere. Some rising producers in the less—prestigious French regions like Languedoc and Corsica, comparatively scorned by the Paris snobs, produce interesting wines at good value. Interestingly enough, after sometimes violent protests, America's Gallo has entered Languedoc, and will soon be offering reasonably—priced French product, likely of superior quality, to consumers around the world, French and non—French alike. Nobody outdoes Gallo when it comes to harnessing vast capital to technological and marketing skills of the highest order, although Australia's big producers are, as the French would say, formidable.

The wine industry, so dear to French national identity, is a microcosm of the problems of French society, government, and economy.

Thomas Lifson, the editor of The American Thinker, is also a partner Sunset Cellars, a California producer of award—winning wines.