A RECENT short visit to the La Mancha area of Spain brought home to me just why the European Commission in Brussels wants to cut back on Europe's over-production of wine. For two days we drove for hours through endless hectares of vines stretching to the distant horizon. Who drinks all this wine? Well, I play my small part, but it is not difficult to imagine that with France, Italy, Cyprus, Hungary, Portugal and Austria all adding their produce there is a huge undrunk wine lake which has to be re-distilled into industrial alcohol at a cost of 500 million euros annually. Brussels has proposed what might have seemed a modest 12 per cent cut-back, involving digging up some 400'000 hectares, but the reaction of the principal wine-growing countries has been hostile with France in the lead. At a preliminary meeting of agriculture ministers Spain cleverly argued that “grubbing up” the vines would lead to mass desertification in the hottest parts of Europe. There are 1.5 million people engaged in wine production in the EU, so the implications of any cut-back are important.
Nonetheless, the Commission is right to say that Europe should be concentrating on producing fewer but better wines to stem the increasing amount of very quaffable wines from the “new world” of wine, countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, whose imports in the EU have been growing at an annual rate of 10 per cent for a decade.


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