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The violent history of France’s wine ‘terroirists’

CAV spilling Spanish wine onto a French motorway in April 2016. Credit: Raymond Roig/Getty

January 24, 2024 - 4:00pm

French prosecutors have opened a criminal inquiry following a dramatic explosion in the southern city of Carcassonne this week. The ground floor of a government building used by civil servants was destroyed, as glass windows shattered into hundreds of jagged pieces, and shards of twisted metal flew outside.  

The scene was reminiscent of a war-torn Middle Eastern enclave but there were mercifully no dead or maimed during the nighttime attack, nor were religious fundamentalists suspected of being involved. Instead, as a judicial police investigator in the normally peaceful tourist destination told me, the “highly determined and organised gang” responsible was likely to be involved in the wine trade.

Bizarre as it might sound, terrorism linked to one of France’s most famous rural industries is an abiding problem. It is a perfect example of how extremely violent dissent is as integral to the Gallic psyche as all those other internationally famous icons, including vin rouge itself.

In the Carcassonne case, a group calling itself the Viticultural Action Committee was thought to be responsible. There was no crowing phone call or sinister online message from them, but the letters CAV, for Comité d’Action Viticole, were graffitied twice on a wall close to the blast. 

The calling card name may sound vaguely comical, but the CAV is in fact a deadly serious organisation that during its 117-year history has been linked to multiple bomb and arson attacks, as well as a range of other violent crimes including kidnappings and even the killing of a senior policeman. 

In short, it is typical of the armed extremist organisations that exist in this revolutionary nation, which firmly established terrorism as an effective political strategy at the end of the 18th century. 

The most gruesome elements of the Terror, the horrendous period of bloodletting that followed the creation of the first Republic in 1792, were reflected in methods deployed by the CAV, which first came into being during the fabled winegrowers’ revolt in southern departments in 1907. It was eventually put down by the army, with seven killed and dozens more wounded by cannon fire. 

As today, the wine militants claimed to be defending themselves against a Paris government with little understanding of the problems of the countryside. 

By the 1960s, the CAV became especially extreme. This was a time when even French police and army officers were forming themselves into terrorist groups. Their Secret Army Organisation (OAS) thought nothing of killing and maiming civilians, including children, as they fought against plans to hand Algeria, France’s most prestigious colony, back to its indigenous Arab and Berber inhabitants. 

The letters OAS were regularly scrawled on walls following a lethal night of mayhem involving plastic explosives, gunfire or stabbings. The wine terrorists were far less notorious but the CAV’s own three letters still caused fear and anguish.

Attacks on government buildings, bottling plants and the like were carried out by armed, hooded gang members. After a police commander was shot dead by the CAV in 1976, it went relatively quiet but did not go away. Arms and explosives were stored and an increasing sense of crisis saw the atrocities resume. 

CAV’s principal gripe today is foreign imports, and particularly the kind of cheap wine coming across the border from Spain. The EU is perceived as causing enormous damage along with its French globalist collaborators, including President Emmanuel Macron’s administration. In a separate protest seven years ago, alleged members of CAV went to trial for spilling gallons of Spanish wine in the French countryside, along with other acts of sabotage.

Hence the attack in Carcassonne on the offices of Dreal, the government’s environment, planning and housing directorate in the Aude department. Wine prices are tumbling along with the number of drinkers, and the producers say they are being overwhelmed by red tape as they try to claim subsidies that might help them stay in business. 

There is, of course, no CAV press office, but the rhetoric of wine industry leaders points towards even more turmoil in a country where rioters from the Gilets Jaunes movement were torching government buildings and attacking police in cities including Paris as recently as 2020. 

Frédéric Rouanet, the president of the winegrowers’ union in the Aude, captures France’s eternal conflict between protest and life-threatening terror: “I do not condone violence, but the situation is extremely serious.”


Peter Allen is a journalist and author based in Paris.

peterallenparis

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UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

One of many great things about the French. If they have a problem they get together and do something about it. Usually with good food and wine from local producers.

Hugh Bryant
HB
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

In my experience, having worked there, whenever they face competition they try to get the government to put a stop to it, usually successfully. That goes for the big French corporates as well as the little guys.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
L
Lennon Ó Náraigh
3 months ago

The attack was probably carried out by rouge elements in the wine industry 🙂

Amelia Melkinthorpe
Amelia Melkinthorpe
3 months ago

They do have a valid grape …

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

I can’t see what they’re wine-ing about.

Hugh Bryant
HB
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago

Yep, they’re a grand cru!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
3 months ago

Still, it seems the police have drawn a blanc.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
3 months ago

They certainly didn’t bottle it.

Liakoura
L
Liakoura
2 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Enough – just put a cork in it.

Alexander McClintock
Alexander McClintock
3 months ago

“These Gauls are crazy”

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago

Come back Vercingetorix ALL is forgiven.

R Wright
RW
R Wright
2 months ago

“as they fought against plans to hand Algeria, France’s most prestigious colony, back to its indigenous Arab and Berber inhabitants”
The Arabs are not indigenous to Algeria.

Liakoura
Liakoura
2 months ago

“The scene was reminiscent of a war-torn Middle Eastern enclave…”
Or indeed London’s Canary Wharf Docklands development.
https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/use-gaddafi-s-hidden-billions-to-compensate-ira-blast-victims-a3465211.html

Liakoura
L
Liakoura
2 months ago

“Oh some are fond of Spanish wine, and some are fond of French And some’ll swallow tay and stuff fit only for a wench;”Captain Stratton’s Fancy by John Masefield.  (1878-1967)
Whereas today it’s New World wines that knock the French variety into that proverbial cocked hat.

Amelia Melkinthorpe
AM
Amelia Melkinthorpe
2 months ago
Reply to  Liakoura

Apart from Condrieu, and Tavel Rose. The New World versions aren’t a patch on these.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago

Why the downvotes? I’m with you on that. Never found much to beat Condrieu (although it doesn’t come cheap!).

Edward De Beukelaer
EB
Edward De Beukelaer
2 months ago

…. many problems with farming in the EU can be resolved by promoting an agriculture that produces healthy food and the consumption of this food by its citizens (including wines). For the moment farming is controlled by an agro industry addicted to financial transactions and chemicals. It does not only produces food with little nutritional value being at the origin of many health issues, it also makes a mess of the environment we need to lead healthy happy lives…. but hey, a cheap macdo and a glass of cheap chemical filled wine keeps the masses quiet…they already did it in Rome…

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
2 months ago

Violence because they are supposedly “being overwhelmed by red tape as they try to claim subsidies that might help them stay in business” is so French.

Eric Mader
Eric Mader
2 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

I’d say you win this thread, monsieur.

Fred Himebaugh
FH
Fred Himebaugh
2 months ago

What’s next — Balsamic Jihad?

Clueless
Clueless
2 months ago

The rioters were not Gilet Jaunes. They would have been one or other of the anarchist movements like Blackblok .
The CAV is not a large organization, I only heard of them because of Carcassonne and to call them terrorists is over the top.