US boycott starts hurting French wines
BORDEAUX, France, April 14 (AFP) - France has begun to feel the effect of a United States boycott of its wines in retaliation for opposition to the US-led war on Iraq, leading merchants said here Monday.
Nicolas Gailly, head of the company Barton et Guestier which claims to be the biggest French wine seller in the United States, admitted sales had gone down, saying American distributors were making less effort to market French products.
"It's not politically correct to promote French products generally and wine in particular," he said. But Gailly said he was not giving way to pessimisim. His company has annual sales of EUR 40 million (USD 43 million), 95 percent for export.
"What we fear and what is already having direct effect is a boycott not of consumers but of distributors amidst very heavy competition," said Louis-Regis Affre of the French wine and spirt export federation.
The businessmen were speaking at a general assembly of wine merchants of Bordeaux region - home of claret. Two other merchants, Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Ginestet, also admitted to what was described as a "delicate situation."
"Our information indicates a very clear drop in the number of French wine bottles appearing on store shelves," said Christian Delpeuch, head of Ginestet, which normally has sales of EUR 10 million in the US, or 10 percent of its total. "They aren't promoting French wines any more," he said: "The catering trade is avoiding them too."
There have been protests against France and boycotts of French products in the United States in recent weeks, with some ceremoniousy pouring French wines down street gutters.
Top US wine critic Robert Parker said in the March issue of Decanter magazine that he was surprised at the volume of anti-French rhetoric in the United States, and expressed fears over its effects on the wine business.
Parker said importers of French wine were complaining that US customs agents were harassing their shipments.