Worried French put wood in wine, not vice versa

The sagging French wine industry often tries to put a good face on its situation despite increased global competition and less than stellar sales.

That now will be a little more difficult to accept since the French government plans to allow vintners to flavor their wine with wood shavings, a technique French winemakers have derided as the work of lesser mortals.

Adding wood chips to wine to increase oak flavor has long been practiced by some winemakers in the U.S., Australia and South America. The idea is to avoid the cost and time involved in aging wines in oak barrels.

"The use of wood shavings is already authorized by the European Community and will soon be entered into national regulation," France's Agriculture Ministry said in a formal statement, an effort to "open up the range of authorized winemaking practices."

Wine purists in France predictably have objected to the move, but others in the industry are all in favor of it. As Roland Feredj, director of the Bordeaux wine council known as CIVB, told the Associated Press:

"It is a remarkable and very realistic advance -- it's practically miraculous. In general, France always wants to give lessons to the rest of the world, and in winemaking we are realizing that the Australians and the Americans also have things to teach us about wine regulations."

The decision comes just a week after the government announced a $108 million bailout to help the national wine industry. More than $14 million of that sum is earmarked to increase exports. The industry has been on the decline in terms of sales and prestige for a half-dozen years, losing the leadership position in numerous countries as other nations' wine industries have grown and improved.

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