Sarkozy faces 'grapes of wrath' terror threat

HIS promises to shake up France's labour force, abolish its 35-hour working week and enact tougher measures on crime and immigration have outraged many of his compatriots.

But now Nicolas Sarkozy has found an unlikely enemy in France's vignerons, who are promising an al Qaeda-style campaign of violence if the new French president does not help the country's struggling wine industry.

The Regional Committee for Viticultural Action (CRAV), a small group of militant winemakers that has in the past riddled a lorry carrying Chilean wine with bullets, is threatening action they say could lead to deaths if Sarkozy reneges on his electoral promise to support their industry.

Last week, a piece of video footage was sent to France's Channel 3 TV station showing five balaclava-clad men, "somewhere in the Languedoc hinterland".

The short video showed the winemakers warning that after one month, if nothing had changed and wine prices continued to rise, they would be forced to go into action.

A spokesman said: "If Sarkozy does not support the interests of the wine industry, he will be entirely responsible for what happens. We are at the point of no return."

With references to the French Resistance and a winemakers' uprising in Montpellier in 1907 CRAV said that its members would: "come out of the maquis [scrub] and go into action; be worthy representatives of the 1907 revolt where several died so that future generations could live by their profession". It added that they would "see to it that our children know what it is to make wine".

CRAV can trace its origins back 100 years, when it was known as the Comit du Salut Viticole. In the 1980s it waged a war against globalisation and the European Union. In recent years the pressure of over-production and competition from New World wines has seen it resort to more extreme action.

Its members have been responsible for blowing up a main railway line between Nimes and Narbonne, as well as vandalising government buildings and a warehouse of imported wines. Last year, they pumped a tanker bringing wine from Spain full of bullet holes and drained the 28,000 litres into the street before setting the vehicle on fire and rioting.

Vehemently opposed to foreign competition, CRAV argues that the French government should guarantee a minimum price for its wines.

But the government is now reducing subsidies to inefficient farmers. Below-standard wine that was before propped up by financial support from Brussels cannot find a market.

Richard Bouglet, a French wine merchant working in Scotland, condemned the organisation, saying: "Some of the winemakers in the south of France are very militant. There is a group that is totally against globalisation, the EU, subsidies and big farms. They argue that these forces threaten regionality.

"They are totally against liberalism and do not want competition as such. They want the price of the grapes to be fixed - it is Marxism in the vineyard. What has hit them is the twin forces of a declining domestic market and the rise of New World competition. Twenty years ago they had the American, British and Scandinavian market sewn up."

The French wine industry employs more than 300,000 people and is worth 3.8bn. For decades it has dominated internationally, but lately it has lost substantial ground in its middle-market wines to the New World. Three years ago a documentary called Tempte Dans Un Verre De Vin - storm in a wine glass - caused outrage in French wine circles because it claimed that not only is the industry in crisis, but it is unimaginative, uncompetitive and has been slow to react to the threat of New World wines.

A few months later, Bordeaux, France's largest fine-wine region, admitted that it was producing far more than it could sell.

The EU ending up paying 97m to the French state to help it eliminate 8% of its vineyards. The move saw more than 18,000 hectares of vines "grubbed up" in some of the country's most prestigious growing areas. A "wine lake" of surplus Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Loire vintages was created, which will be converted into ethanol to power factories.

Back to the top of the page