Tearing up wine growers’ life work was never guaranteed to make the European Commission more friends. Its proposals this Wednesday are being questioned over the length and breadth of the EU. Clamping down on wine cowboys whose fields produce megalitres that nobody wants to buy is all very well, but along the Moselle River in Luxembourg, that does not seem to apply.
Local grower Frank Linster says the heavy-handed approach is entirely misplaced where production is maintained at a reasonable scale: “Our vineyard is very small… Whatever it produces we sell. In other words, it supports our markets’ needs, and our markets ours. We don’t see an interest in uprooting vines in our region.”
The reforms aimed at stopping producers from adding sugar to wine — mostly a central and northern European tradition — also have Luxembourg growers worried. Senior agricultural representative Robert Ley in Luxembourg says that local vintners there are angry at what they see as unfair compensation for the south: “It’s to be forbidden because grape concentrate subsidies are being stopped… Well that’s going to raise production costs in our (more northern) regions.”
Under current subsidy structures, around 500 million euros in EU community funding goes towards producing wines that end up without a market. The global wine market is a 1.3 billion euro affair, with stiff competition. That is a significant part of the dynamic in Europe, says Spanish Green party MEP David Hammerstein: “The tearing up of the vines and the sugar issue are, of course, connected. They want to suppress most of the production in southern Europe, where it is a more natural process, and they want to make Europe dependent on concentrated must and wines imported from third countries.”
Independent farm policy analyst Andreas Schneider disagrees in some ways. He says there is no north-south wine war, and that this is just a matter of readjustment in qualilty: “If you can’t produce a proper wine without sugar, maybe you shouldn’t be making it at all. That’s part of the problem in Europe: There are too many table wines.”
Luxembourg has a variety of wines, and the best ones come from the steepest slopes along the Moselle. The steeper the slope, the harder it is to tend the vines. Yet quality-oriented reforms make this region a positive example to follow, in spite of the difficulties.