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Guilty verdict reached in ‘landmark ruling’ for French viticulture

The Bordeaux Commercial Court has ordered négociants Cordier Excel Trilles SAS and Maison Ginestet SA to each pay a Médoc grower in excess of €150,000 for offering “abusively low” prices for his wine.

In a case that may tip the balance of power in Bordeaux, the city’s Commercial Court ruled yesterday (22 February 2024) against two négociants charged with offering unfairly low prices for a grower’s wine.

In doing so, the court ruled, the négociants breached the Egalim law on agricultural prices, which was established in 2018 (article L442-7 of the Commercial Code) to ensure that farmers can earn a liveable income.

Cordier Excel Trilles SAS and Maison Ginestet SA have been ordered to pay €202,072.30 and €152,704.10 respectively to grape grower Rémi Lacombe, who brought the case against the traders last year.

In a statement Lacome’s lawyer Louis Lacamp announced: “This is the first time that a court has condemned buyers of agricultural products for charging abusively low purchase prices.”

“This decision is important because it tells farmers that acting against buyers… can lead to a result.”

However, Lacamp cautioned, farmers are “afraid of possible reprisals”, with many concerned that traders will “not buy their production” if they insist on higher prices.

Fear of blacklisting

As the drinks business reported earlier this week, the legal case has brought to the fore the wider issue of grape growers receiving small sums for their crops, or risk being “blacklisted” by négociants.

Between 2021 and 2022 Lacombe sold nearly 8,500 hectolitres to négociants Ginestet and Excel at a price of between €1,150 and €1,200 per barrel, depending on the vintage, the court heard. Lacombe says this falls far beneath the amount it cost him to produce the wine, which he estimates reached between €1,500 and €2,000 per barrel.

According to the court’s calculations, the fair price per barrel for Lacombe’s wine amounted to €1,550.

The court said the two négociants had not allowed Lacombe to make price proposals on the contracts, which it argued “should constitute the basis of pre-contractual negotiation”.

All parties appeared in court on 11 January to fight their case, with the verdict handed down six weeks later.

In light of the unprecedented legal case, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has announced that he intends to present a new law by this summer to “strengthen the Egalim system” in order to make prices fairer for farmers and growers.


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