French winemakers threaten to block Tour de France after Chilean wine chosen as sponsor
Winemakers are up in arms about Chile’s Bicicleta being sponsor of the race, claiming it is “unacceptable”
The pack rides past vineyards during the Tour de France Photo: AFP PHOTO/LIONEL BONAVENTURE
By Rory Mulholland, Paris
4:10PM GMT 28 Feb 2016
As an official sponsor of France’s Tour de France, there might seem worse choices than a wine named Bicicleta. But its discreet “Made in Chile” label has struck a sour note with French winemakers, who are threatening to block the three-week bicycle race unless it is replaced with a home-grown beverage.
The wine from Chile’s Cono Sur company will only be advertised at promotional events held when the race briefly enters Switzerland, Andorra and Spain, as under French law no alcohol brands can be promoted during sports events in the country.
But that alone is enough to infuriate French winemakers in the southwestern Languedoc-Roussillon region, who say they will block one of the race stages between Carcassonne and Montpellier if the partnership with the New World winemaker goes ahead.
Photo: Getty Images
“It is unacceptable to allow the Tour de France organisers to promote a wine from Chile,” the Young Farmers group (JA) said on its website. “They should be supporting only French produce.”
The company that runs the Tour, ASO, has insisted it sees nothing wrong with the deal with the Chilean winemaker.
The sponsorship contract has been in place for the last two years, with Bicicleta wine promoted in Britain at the opening stages of the 2014 Tour, and in Holland and Belgium last year during stages in those countries.
But Languedoc-Roussillon winemakers said they had only very recently become aware of the deal.
“We feel humiliated,” said Frédéric Rouanet, the president of the Aude department winemakers’ union.
“We make prestigious wines and the Tour is part of our cultural and sporting heritage, and therefore our wines should be associated with it,” he said.
Eight members of parliament from the region have also penned a letter to the Stéphane Le Foll, agriclture minister, to express their “anger” about the Chilean wine, while the regional president said she “deplored” the decision.
A worker harvest grapes in the Languedoc-Roussillon region Photo: Getty Images
The union said it planned to block the Chilean wine “on the entire territory of France, at strategic points,” and it called on other French winemaking regions to join in their protest movement.
Languedoc-Roussillon is home to the militant group CRAV, or “regional winemakers’ action committee,” whose balaclava-clad members have intermittently hijacked tankers of foreign wine and dynamited government buildings and supermarkets over the past few decades.
French farmers are notoriously militant, and have in recent months been staging blockades of French towns and dumping manure outside government offices as part of protests over what they say is a lack of support from the Socialist government in the face of severe economic challenges.
On Saturday, François Hollande, the French president, was met with jeers from angry farmers at the start of the annual Paris agricultural show.
The 2016 Tour de France is the 103rd such event and is a key moment in the nation’s sports agenda, with this year’s edition running between July 2-24.