Around the world, small farms, orchards, and vineyards have fallen victim to globalization. Large commercial interests continue forcing prices down to a point where they alone can be profitable.
Some small vineyards are fighting back against this“economic injustice.” To keep cheap imported wine from competing in their region, a “shadowy” group in southern France’s Languedoc has resorted to violence.
They’re known (in English) as the Regional Wine Action Committee. Netflix’ Rotten: Reign of Terroir tells their story.
Historically, the Languedoc group has battled wine from Algeria. Today, the cheap imports are Spanish — and the supermarkets often market them with misleading labels bearing images of French chateaux. On top of all this, a young (but rapidly growing) Chinese wine industry threatens the group’s largest export market.
Forced to accept prices established by the supermarket monopoly, French growers operate on increasingly smaller margins. A UK study showed that if the supermarkets charge 5 pounds for a table wine, its grower receives only 6 percent of the selling price.
Higher quality vintages, of course, command much higher prices. For those costing 20 pounds at the supermarkets, the growers receive a 35-percent cut.
For generations, however, the Languedoc region’svineyards have produced good, but moderately priced,table wines. The families who own them take great pride in their work.
They resent having their product treated as just another commodity. At the root of their rage is an instinct for self-preservation. Andrew Smith, author of Terror and Terroir, explains:
“… they don’t want to be part of some hyper-globalized market, but… that’s a difficult idea to defend in a world of openness.”
Hungry for Wine author Cathy Huyghe encourages consumers to think before they purchase inexpensive products:
“There’s so much more about a bottle of wine than what you think. If you’re paying 4 Euros for a bottle of wine, I think that it’s worth pausing to consider whether the people who are responsible for that bottle are actually being fairly compensated for what they’ve done.”
Wine drinkers or not, we should recognize what Rotten:Reign of Terroir really exposes: The problematic pricing of every food or beverage purchase. Hopefully, it will cause us to stop and reconsider instead of automatically reaching for the cheapest option on the shelf!