France may be home to some of the world's finest wines but it could be about to join the tiny club of Muslim states that forbid their promotion on the internet.
Winemakers and other players in the drinks industry are fighting to avert a ban on advertising, sales and even vineyard websites that has been looming ever since a court ruled that the internet should be included in France's strict laws regarding
The Heineken beer company was forced by the ruling last February to block French access to its corporate site. Since then, some of the biggest drinks brands have shut out French visitors for fear of prosecution. Today in France, the sight of a
bottle of wine has become as offensive as a picture of war or pornography, said Daniel Lorson, a spokesman for CIVC, the industry body of champagne producers.
The industry complains that it is being demonised and that an internet ban would penalise hugely one of the glories of the French economy and the national heritage. A click from France on Courvoisier cognac, for example, elicits the message: Sorry, the regulations of your country do not authorise us to give you access to our site.
Even the alcohol-fuelled world of sport has not been left unscathed. When Liverpool played Marseilles in this week's Champions League match, the logo of Carlsberg, the team's main sponsor, was absent from their shirts, while rugby union's
Heineken Cup is simply called the European Rugby trophy in France.
Frédéric Delesque, the marketing director of Camus Cognac, which has also bowed to the law and blocks French visitors said: There are three countries in the world which ban the discussion of alcohol: Iran, Afghanistan and
France. It is a pity for the image of our products.
The Evin law, passed in 1991, limits the advertising of alcoholic drinks only to the press, the radio and on posters. Since the world wide web did not exist then, it is not approved for drink advertising. The court upheld that argument in the
Heineken case, but added that it should be clarified.
The world of alcohol fears that the inevitable jokes produced by the country's comedians are a little too close to reality. Will it soon be illegal, for example, to mention such place names as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne or Cognac in public?
The French wine industry is calling for demonstrations across the country on October 30 to protest recent government and court decisions that would severely limit not only wine advertising, but wine writing.
This year alone, the wine industry has been hit with these blows:
A French court ruled that newspaper and magazine articles on wine must contain health warnings, in much the same way the United States requires tobacco advertising to include warnings. But remember we're not talking about advertising, but
That same court ruled that wine and beer cannot be advertised on the Internet.
Proposed new laws will put wine on the same level as pornography by limiting access to wine- and alcohol-related sites only to certain hours, with the rationale of protecting minors.
The recent court decisions are the latest manifestations of the French Evin Law, which was enacted in 1991 to control the advertising of wine and spirits. The law limited advertising to showing a product, naming the place where it was made, how
it was made and how it should be consumed. It eliminated all references to social or financial success, or to wine as part of any social or domestic scene.
The rationale for the law was the high rate of deaths in France that could be attributed to alcohol and tobacco abuse. But the recent restrictions betray hostility to any sort of pleasure derived from wine. This, I would think, is about as
un-French as you can get.
The French minister of health supports changing the Evin Law to allow wine advertising on the internet.
Despite continued fierce opposition from anti-alcohol groups, Roselyne Bachelot told Le Figaro: When we initially drew up the Evin Law we did not take into account the internet, because at the time it was not as developed as it is today.
Despite this, national demonstrations against the law will still go ahead on Thursday.
A CIVB spokesperson told decanter.com: While we welcome the news that the internet may now be a legal method of promotion for winemakers, this has not yet been made official – and is not the only threat to French wine.
Demonstrators will cover up any signs for villages that also carry the name of an appellation - such as Saint Emilion, Pauillac or Margaux - to highlight the absurdity of the censorship.
You might think that French officials would have raised their glasses in celebration of a project to create the first Gallic television channel dedicated to wine. Instead, they appear intent on driving the station into exile, possibly to Britain,
after deciding that it will fall foul of the toughest laws on alcohol promotion outside the Muslim world.
Edonys, a private group which hopes to start broadcasting later this year, has been warned by France's Higher Audiovisual Council that it will receive authorisation only if it drops plans for programmes featuring wine-tastings and expert
discussions. The broadcasting authority deemed these illegal under a law that prohibits all direct or indirect propaganda in favour of alcoholic drinks on television.
However, the station is refusing to amend its schedule and executives are now looking for a base outside France. Britain, Luxembourg and Belgium are among the options.
He said that the station would instead target wine-lovers in Belgium and other francophone countries with looser regulations. He said that Edonys also intended to start broadcasting English-language programmes for the UK and Northern European
countries next year. It is likely to be a pay channel available by cable or satellite.