By Gabrielle Vizzavona
“French diplomats are doing their utmost to get the new American president to end taxes introduced by Donald Trump” .
Senator and Paris councillor Catherine Dumas is recognised for her work in the fields of culture, luxury goods, gastronomy and wine. Through her commitment to promoting and protecting France’s culinary and wine heritage, one of her most notable achievements was helping to secure a UNESCO listing for the ‘Gastronomic Meal of the French’ in 2010. She is also a member of the Senate’s ‘Vine and Wine’ study group.
Gabrielle Vizzavona: What strengths do you feel the French wine industry can leverage to tackle the crisis?
Catherine Dumas: The French wine and spirits industry is facing a multifaceted crisis. Not only does it have to adapt to the global health crisis, it also has to cope with a lot of tension in export markets. The dispute over aviation subsidies between the European Union and the United States has led to retaliatory measures resulting in additional duties which reduce the competitiveness of winegrowers in this major market. The same applies to the British market where, despite the agreements, Brexit will cause marketing issues in a country that represents the second-largest export hub for the French economy. Fortunately, industry members can rely on local consumption (to varying degrees) which is stopping many of them from going under. Importantly, in France – and this is not necessarily true in some foreign countries – wine merchants and the beverage alcohol departments in supermarkets were allowed to stay open.
GV: Is the crisis an opportunity for the industry to reinvent itself and if so, how?
CD: Yes, the need for many businesses to find new customers to sell off unsold inventories is forcing most industry members to expand their customary sales channels. Digital and distance selling have become channels for developing direct-to-consumer sales that should be embraced by the wine industry to offset losses elsewhere.
GV: What political measures could be taken to help the wine industry bounce back?
CD: Regarding the export issues I mentioned above, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom, I warned the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, about the difficulties encountered, in particular, by the wine and spirits, perfume and cosmetics industries. He assured me that his department was fully aware of the magnitude of these problems and that French diplomats were doing their utmost to get the new American president to end taxes introduced by Donald Trump. But the industry will only bounce back once our daily lives have returned to normal. We are now pinning our hopes on vaccinating people as quickly and broadly as possible. In the meantime, we must do everything we can to help industry members survive financially through compensation funds, access to the solidarity fund, state-guaranteed loans (PGE), tax and social measures.
GV: Could Loi Evin legislation on advertising jeopardise the recovery?
CD: Combatting alcoholism, and particularly binge drinking which is widespread among young consumers, must remain a priority and the Loi Evin is one of the legal tools introduced by French authorities to achieve this. The inherent problem with this law is that it deals with alcohol in general, and its measures fail to really distinguish between the alcohol content in different drinks or target the most extreme behaviour, namely spirits consumption by young people at parties. The legal provisions of the Loi Evin, adopted in 1991, need to be tidied up and modernised. A distinction could then be made between the strongest drinks in the market, and therefore the most dangerous and the most widely drunk by young people, and wines, beers and Champagnes, which often epitomise regional culinary skills. Local communities are keen to be able to focus on these skills to promote tourism. There is therefore an urgent need for reform!
GV: Do you feel that wine tourism will quickly resume once the pandemic is over?
CD: Wine tourism is one of the tourist attractions that many local authorities would like to focus on when recovery is back on the agenda. I discuss this topic regularly with former Minister Hervé Novelli, who now chairs the High Council for Wine Tourism. France has many regions – like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne – where the tourist industry and wine producers can work together to enhance their appeal for French and foreign visitors. Many of our fellow citizens have rediscovered the attraction of holidays in France in recent months. Through collaboration with partners such as Atout France, the key components for structuring the wine tourism industry in France will have to be rapidly introduced. I intend to work towards this, primarily in the Senate, which houses all of France’s regions, including its wine regions!