PARIS — French ministers’ plans to require bigger health warnings on bottles of wine have provoked a furious response from leading chateaux, which say the move would damage “the soul of France” and turn wine into a “criminal product”.
The winemakers united to criticize the proposal, intended to reduce alcohol consumption among pregnant women and minors. Agnes Buzyn, the health minister, wants to make two two centimetre-wide labels obligatory on the front of each wine bottle — one warning women against drinking any wine during pregnancy and the other a reminder that wine is illegal for under-18s.
Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, which makes the world’s most expensive wine, is among the signatories against the proposals, sent to industry officials three weeks ago. The ministry wants the changes to come into force “by the end of the year”.
Bottles of wine must already carry pictograms or a message advising zero alcohol consumption during pregnancy but there is no legal minimum size or rules on colour. They do not currently have to warn against under age drinking.
The proposals come as a quarter of pregnant French women continue to drink alcohol, according to the National Institute for Health and Medical Research, and as France struggles with an increase in teenage binge drinking.
Sixty-four of France’s most illustrious vineyards and champagne houses accused the ministry of seeking to “spread fear”.
“We are the guardians of an exceptional heritage: French winemaking,” they wrote. “Every day, by exporting our produce, we share with the world, novices and wine buffs alike, a part of the soul of France.”
The government risked “sacrificing” all their endeavours by turning wine into a “criminal product”, they warned.
Pierre-Henri Gaget, of Maison Louis Jadot, said, “We don’t carry the plague and don’t want to be tarred with the same brush as cigarette manufacturers.
“To stick two warnings on the front label with a red line through them is unbearable. Next they’ll be slapping photos with cancer victims and saying wine is to blame.”