Firemen fighting the flames at Robert Curbières’ cellar.
Photo DDM, Roger Garcia – la Depeche.

Edouard’ Fortin’s bottles – image from France 3.

Those who oppose the nastier aspects of “industrial” wine production – its alleged soullessness – may like to pause to consider the occasionally very ugly face of Southern French artisan winemaking.

Two weeks ago – on November 14 – a person- or persons-unknown broke into the cellars of Robert Curbiéres, producer of organic wine in the south west appellation of Cabardès. They emptied his vats of recently harvested 2013 wine and started a fire that destroyed the buildings and their contents including all Curbiéres’ bottled stock. Also lost that night were all of the bottles of wine produced by a young winemaker called Édouard Fortin who was storing his wine in Curbières’ cellar.

Curbières has no idea of why and how he came to be targeted – there were no threats – but he is head of the – farmer’s union – Confédération Paysanne – in Ventenac-Cabardès and admits to speaking his mind at meetings. But Curbières and Fortin are only the most recent victims of this kind of attack. 

In February 2010, Domaine Pech Redon lost eight vats of wine containing 5-600hl of la Clape, while in April this year, Katie Jones of Domaine Jones in Tuchan lost a quarter of her crop when vandals broke in and emptied the vats containing all of her Grenache Gris white.

So far, no one has been arrested for any of these attacks, but on the positive side, many of the producers’ neighbours have rallied to their support. A thousand local citizens demonstrated on behalf of Curbières and Fortin and a Cuvée Solidarité has been put together rapidly by a number of producers to raise money for Fortin.

This support is encouraging of course, but the fact remains: two acts of similar vandalism within six months suggest that the solidarité of winemakers of South West French leaves much to be desired.

Curbières’ and Fortin’s neighbours demonstrate on their behalf
– image from France 3.

  1. I think what makes this worse is that the people who do this are locals who know exactly the work, the commitment, and the passion that goes into the wine … and they deliberately destroy it. It's more than simple vandalism — it strikes at the heart of what these winemakers do. And in this case at a young man just starting out who had nothing to do with whatever their imagined quarrel was about.

    Somebody somewhere must know who the culprits are. But omerta apparently rules. Solidarity afterwards is all very well, but how about stopping it from happening again??

  2. What a dastardly deed to go into this man's winery and dump out his wine. Wine does not grow on trees. It grows in the vineyard and the vineyard owner goes through a lot of tremendous work to bring it to harvest. Shame on the perpetrators. May they get theirs back in spades.

  3. See Veronica's comment above… That's what I think makes it ugly. (And my comment in not anti-French by the way. I'd have headed the piece in the same way in it had been any other country).

  4. As much as I love the Languedoc, it has a long tradition of extreme and gratuitous violence and not only in vinous matters. Too much sun? Too fiery tempers? Yet, cross over to the South West – contrary to you, Robert, my dividing line btw East and South sits in the middle of France rather than alongside the Rhône – and things are much more civilized. Sad, really.

  5. This makes me very sad for many reasons. In the past the CRAV has taken responsibility – on some specious righteous and moral basis – for similar acts of vandalism throughout Languedoc They are only hurting the victims and themselves.

  6. I agree that it's not just about wine; this is part of France where English lambs were roasted alive in a truck as I recall. But I don't think it does any harm to throw some shame at the people who know about what's been going on – and who's been doing it.

  7. Happens in Italy too. In Calif., arson fire set in wine strg warehouse to cover theft, destroyed pricelss vaults of library wine. Rudy Kurn stole untold sums using the Brit based auction houses. Ugly is appropriate word for ugly behavior, no matter where.

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