French winemakers fear tasting ban in health rules

Tue Feb 24, 2009 6:27am EST
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By Marcel Michelson

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - The French wine trade fears new health rules could force vintners to keep the cork on bottles when visitors come to their cellars, dealing a serious blow to growing wine tourism by stigmatizing the beverage.

French parliament will debate early in March a proposed law that carries an article banning promotional sales of alcoholic beverages as a way of curtailing binge-drinking among youths.

The wine sector fears the cure may be worse than the disease and could lead to a ban on wine tastings at a time of limits on advertising and plans to attack Internet sales.

"It's unthinkable, it would be a disaster and many people in France could lose their job. Tastings are an integral part of promoting wine and educating people to consume with reason," said Marie-Christine Tarby, head of the Wine and Society body.

Tarby said that France was less impacted by binge-drinking than other countries and wine played no role in that phenomenon.

The wine trade and French health authorities have an uneasy relationship that led two journalists, Denis Saverot and Benoit Simmat, to title a 2008 book on the sector "In Vino Satanas!."

This means the devil is in the wine, a play on the Latin saying 'in vino veritas' that means the truth is in wine.

"While every Japanese, Chinese and American knows that France is the country of great wines, France today wants to abdicate its Bacchic pre-eminence," they wrote.   Continued...

<p>Glasses and bottles of Chateau Belcier red wine (Saint Emilion label) are seen in a testing room in Saint Emilion, southwestern France, November 6, 2007. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau</p>