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British to Boycott French Wine Until Weapons Testing Stops

By Scott Kraft
Los Angeles Times
PARIS

After French President Jacques Chirac decided to resume nuclear-weapons tests in the South Pacific, one nation recalled its ambassador to France. Protesters burned the French flag and set fire to an embassy, 3 million people signed petitions and environmentalists disrupted French military operations.

But of all the worldwide protests, the one that has hit home is the campaign by France's own European neighbors to boycott that most enduring symbol of all that is French: wine. And it is not merely a matter of national pride.

The boycott is already blamed for trimming the country's Bordeaux exports by 5 percent, and with international outrage mounting over France's detonation of a nuclear device Tuesday in the South Pacific, vintners fear the damage could get far worse.

The French have been particularly dismayed by the boycott call contained in an advertisement devised for movie theaters by anti-nuclear forces in Great Britain, which happens to be both the top consumer of French wine and France's historical nemesis.

The ad, prepared without charge by a London agency, is a takeoff on a scene from the movie "The Day of the Jackal." It shows a Chirac look-alike drinking wine at an outdoor cafe as a sniper takes aim at him.

"That advertising spot is scandalous," said Hubert Bouteiller, a Bordeaux wine grower and president of the region's producer association. In fact, the French government has lodged a protest with the British government.

Danny Thompson, spokesman for the National Peace Council in Britain, countered that while the ad "is pretty hard-hitting, we see it as humorous. A spoof. Having seen the fuss it has caused in France, though, seems to justify our decision to go ahead with it."

Although it's still too early for firm figures, the Bordeaux wine-producers' association says it already has seen about a 5 percent drop in orders from abroad. And the critical pre-Christmas sales months are fast approaching. Some producers could lose as much as 35 percent of their revenue this year, the industry association says.

The aim of the British boycott is to persuade France's powerful agricultural lobby to use its influence with Chirac. "What we're saying is, Use your voices now, and tell Chirac that what he's (doing) is unacceptable,"' Thompson said. "This is not against the French people."

A recent public opinion poll found that 60 percent of the French oppose a resumption of nuclear tests. But French citizens of all persuasions have been angered by the campaign against their country's products. That feeling was summed up in the current issue of the magazine Paris Match, which ran six frames of the British ad with the headline: "The English Hit Below the Belt."