Threat to Tour de France over Chilean wine tie-up

Behind the Tour de France

Samantha Lane goes behind the scenes of what it's like for spectators to travel with the Tour de France.

As an official sponsor of France's Tour de France, a wine named Bicicleta might seem a natural choice.

But its discreet "Made in Chile" label has left French winemakers threatening to block the three-week bicycle race - unless it is replaced with a homegrown alternative.

The pinot noir will only be advertised at promotional events held when the race briefly enters Switzerland, Andorra and Spain. Under French law, alcohol cannot be promoted during sports events in the country.

Put a cork in it

But that brief appearance is enough to infuriate winemakers in the southwestern Languedoc-Roussillon region, who say they will block the stage between Carcassonne and Montpellier if the partnership goes ahead.

"It is unacceptable to allow the Tour de France organisers to promote a wine from Chile," the Young Farmers group (JA) said on its website. "They should be supporting only French produce."

The company that runs the Tour, ASO, has insisted that it sees nothing wrong with the deal with Chile's Cono Sur company.

The sponsorship contract has been in place for the past two years. Bicicleta was promoted in Britain at the opening stages of the 2014 Tour, and in Holland and Belgium last year during stages in those countries.

But Languedoc-Roussillon winemakers say they only very recently became aware of the deal. "We feel humiliated," says Frederic Rouanet, the president of the Aude department winemakers' union.

"We make prestigious wines and the Tour is part of our cultural and sporting heritage, and therefore our wines should be associated with it."

Grapes of wrath

Eight members of regional parliament have penned a letter to Stephane Le Foll, the agriculture minister, to express their "anger", and the regional president, Carole Delga, said she "deplored" the decision. The union says it plans to block sales of the Chilean wine "on the entire territory of France, at strategic points," and it called on other French winemaking regions to join the protest.

Languedoc-Roussillon is home to the militant group CRAV, or "regional winemakers' action committee," whose balaclava-clad members have intermittently hijacked tankers of foreign wine and dynamited government buildings and supermarkets in the past.

French farmers are notoriously militant, and have in recent months been staging blockades of French towns and dumping manure outside government offices in protest at what they say is a lack of support from the Socialist administration in the face of severe economic challenges. President Francois Hollande was met with jeers at the start of the annual Paris agricultural show on Saturday.

The Telegraph, London