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Bordeaux vintners protest at rail approval

Winemakers in Bordeaux are “on the warpath” because of the decision of the French government to approve the controversial high-speed rail line connecting the region with Toulouse and Dax.

Vineyards at the famous Sauternes producer Château d'Yquem (Photo: Wiki)
Vineyards at the famous Sauternes producer Château d’Yquem (Photo: Wiki)

Alain Vidalies, the French transport minister, announced this weekend that 200 miles of high speed railway will go ahead. His decision overrides a year-long public inquiry that rejected the plan because of environmental concerns and over its value for money.

Vintners in Sauternes, which is about 25 miles south of the city of Bordeaux and famed for its sweet wines, claim that the £5 billion rail line will interrupt the natural flow of local streams and rivers.

This would impact the morning fog that helps produce the noble rot on the area’s grapes – a process that helps to produce Sauternes’ distinctive sweet wines.

Xavier Planty, co-onwer of Sauternes premier crus classé Château Giraud, said: “The path of the lines seriously endangers these appellations by damaging the climate of their ecological cradle, the valley of Ciron”, The Times reports.

Romain Garcia, winemaker at Château de Rolland in nearby Barsac, told the drinks business in September that the railway would be a “big risk” for the region.

The Ciron river flows with cold water into the warmer Garonne, where the Sauternes appellation is placed. This causes the rot-causing fog that is dubbed the “Sauternes miracle”.

Representatives of the Bordeaux wine industry have voiced serious concerns about the impact of the rail line. Bernard Farges, head of the Council Interprofessional de Vin de Bordeaux, is quoted as saying: “We have strong fears about the repercussions on wine-growing and the terroir. The winegrowers are not going to accept this. They are on the warpath because their heritage is at stake.”

Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé welcomed the approval of the rail line, saying that it was “good news for Bordeaux and [neighbouring] Aquitaine.” “The government has heard our communities”, he said.

Winemakers will have the chance to challenge the decision at Bordeaux’s supreme court.

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