Winemakers in southern France made public displays of outrage this weekend over the selection of Chile’s Cono Sur ‘Bicicleta’ as the official wine sponsor of the Tour de France. Leading the charge is Frédéric Rouanet, president of the Syndicat Départemental des Vignerons de l’Aude (a regional wine trade body with nearly 4,000 members), who proclaims the news an “intolerable situation” since wine is as crucial a piece of the country’s cultural heritage as the renowned bicycle race. A French wine, he argues, ought to have been chosen.
The 103rd edition of the Tour de France will take place this year from July 2nd to 24th, with a major stage to run through the Aude department, from Carcassonne to Montpellier. If the deal with Cono Sur isn’t altered or overturned, winemakers there threaten to block the race at key points and have called on vintners in other regions to follow suit. So far, no other official wine trade body has joined in the protest, but Les Jeunes Agriculteurs, an association of farmers aged 35 and under, has also openly criticized the sponsorship, and several politicians have questioned it.
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The extent of the winemakers’ reaction to the news may come as a surprise to anyone who tuned in to the 2015 race; Cono Sur was already an official sponsor at that time, having signed a three-year deal. If it slipped past the French then, it may have been due to the country’s Loi Evin, a law forbidding the direct advertising of alcoholic beverages, including but not limited to sponsoring sport events. The “sponsorship” of the Tour de France thus only applies to the portions of the race held outside the French border where the law doesn’t apply. This year, that looks to be a 2-day jaunt in Switzerland and one day in Spain.
It’s unlikely that participants will drink wine at all during the race, foregoing the fermented beverage for something more conducive to cycling – like water. But hey, it’s the principle of the matter.