French wine producers threaten Tour de France blockade


French wine producers have threatened to blockade the world’s greatest cycle race – the Tour de France – in protest over a Chilean wine company being chosen as the tournament’s official sponsor.

The iconic cycling competition which epitomises France, covers 3,500 km over 23 days and will be held in July. It has been an annual fixture as a global sporting highpoint since 1903, excluding the World Wars.

The controversy at this year’s race stems from a foreign wine producer being chosen for a competition which is, after all,  held in the world’s foremost wine producing country. France accounts for one sixth of all global wine production, according to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, providing 4.6 billion litres in 2014.

‘Bicicleta’ is a wine from Chile’s Cono Sur Vineyards & Winery, the South American country’s second largest producer of bottled wine. Although the wine will only be promoted by the Tour de France organisation in Switzerland, Andorra, and Spain – where the race will also be run this year –  French producers remain outraged.

“It’s unacceptable to allow the Tour de France organizers to promote a wine from Chile. They should be supporting only French produce,” said the Young Farmers group on its website. French politicians have also raised questions over this sponsorship deal, with 8 Members of the French National Assembly from the Aude region writing to agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll in protest.

It is reported that groups are planning to disrupt the stage of the race between Carcassonne and Montpelier. French laws make it illegal for alcohol to be promoted at sporting events. However, wine groups feel that this should not stop the Tour de France from partnering with French wine companies to promote ‘Le Vin Français’ in the three non-French countries on the route.

In an attempt to appease wine-making groups, the event organisers offered to showcase regional French wines at each town on the route. However, this has failed to placate the wine groups.

“We intend to block the Tour de France at strategic steps if a French wine is not chosen to represent this cycling event, the emblem of France. A lot of winemakers are ready to jump in to promote French wine,” said Frederic Rouanet, president of the winemakers union of the Aude region.

There are conflicting reports over the Tour de France settlement. Some groups have reported that the matter has been resolved, with the head of the French wine producers council claiming this. “It would have been a mistake to block the Tour de France. I was always against it,” said Jerome Despey of FranceAgriMer.

If it goes ahead, 164 kilometres at the 11th stage of the race would be blockaded. The Tour de France runs from 2 – 24 July.


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