mardi 2 octobre 2007

Luxury French Moonshiners Cry `Liberte' Over Taxes for Homebrew

Je ne peux resister au plaisir de publier le reportage d'un journaliste pour Bloomberg. (la plus grande agence de presse financiere) Un bijoux au milieu d'histoires bien ennuyeuses habituellement. Extraodinaire....

Luxury French Moonshiners Cry `Liberte' Over Taxes for Homebrew2007-10-02 00:20 (New York)

By A. Craig Copetas Oct. 2 (Bloomberg) -- The plums of August are in the barnand the bittersweet aroma of cherry mash fills the autumn air inthe backwoods of Quincy-Voisins, a village 57 kilometers (35miles) east of Paris in the heart of French moonshine country. Jose Barre stokes the furnace of a copper still withkindling and boils up the privilege the French Revolution gavehim to homebrew what's known in these hollows as ``gnole,'' asilky sipping alcohol with the jolt of a howitzer. ``Politicians are killing the business; only 1,000 of mykind left,'' says Barre, 63, a third-generation ``distilleurambulant'' -- a traveling liquor maker whose pride and livelihoodcome from turning fruit into firewater. ``The situation is grave.Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!'' Unless the distilleurs and ``bouilleurs des cru'' -- the300,000 fruit growers whose fermented puree goes into thedistilleurs' kettles -- persuade the Assemblee Nationale thismonth to terminate duties, the government plans new taxes ongnole in January. That would threaten the bouilleurs, who haveyet to be priced out of their centuries-old cooperative venturewith the distilleurs. As French crises go, this one is 100 proof and comes with alingering headache, particularly for its chief culprit,revolutionary dictator Maximilien Robespierre, who wasguillotined in 1794. Although Robespierre hailed from a family of brewers, hehelped water down one of the fundamental gains from the 1789uprising: the right to forever make tax-free alcoholic beveragesfor family consumption.
Napoleon Acts
Some of the gnole was sold and consumed beyond the familyhearth. The government imposed controls. Taxes were levied on alllegitimate production. A black market emerged. The travelingdistillers headed for the hills. Moonshine entitlements becamepart of French agricultural mythology. Napoleon tweaked the law in 1808, decreeing that allbouilleurs could produce 10 liters of alcohol each year, exemptfrom tax. Between 1862 and 1957, the numbers of bouilleurs grewto 3.65 million from 90,000. Then came the bureaucrats. According to a Michigan State University study, successiveadministrations blamed the bouilleurs and distilleurs formasterminding a vast criminal conspiracy. The government accusedthem of annually producing 4.5 million gallons of forbidden fruitjuice beyond the legal limit, avoiding tariffs and promotingalcoholism. ``How can the bureaucrats accuse us of being responsible foralcoholism?'' Barre says, waving a folder of figures assembled bythe Syndicate of Traveling Distillers. ``Gnole accounts for 0.15percent of all pure alcohol made in France. This is our right andwe intend to fight for it.''
The Beet
Although a recent government report says alcohol accountsfor some 23,000 deaths annually, Syndicate President AlainTrohel, who makes eau de vie in the Loire village of LaBaconniere, says his group isn't responsible and the governmenthas a patriotic duty to repeal the taxes. ``More than 50 percent of the bouilleurs are over 60 yearsold, passionate and tough farmers who fought for France and liveon 600 euros a month,'' Trohel says. One antagonist in this French family feud, Barre says, is avegetable: the beet. As they say in these parts, ``beets areradical, apples are moderate and wine is socialist.'' The French grow about 30 million tons of beta vulgarisannually, making France the world leader in wurzels. Their sugarcontent is a major source for the cheap alcohol that Frenchbeverage companies, including Pernod Ricard SA, use to lace manyof their flavored tipples, like pastis.
Government Subsidy
``Beet cultivation is subsidized by the government, andindustrial distillers only pay a 4.20 euro tax on each liter ofpure alcohol,'' Barre grouses. ``We now pay a 14.50 euro tax oneach liter of alcohol we make after the first 10 liters.'' The proposed new tariffs will range from 7.30 euros to 14.50euros per liter. Pernod spokeswoman Florence Taron declined to comment on the50 million liters of beet alcohol her company annuallycontributes to the brouhaha. All the talk -- and lack of it -- has left bouilleur'sdaughter Liliane Muller thirsty. ``Gnole is tradition, a luxury product, a way for people tocontinue cultivating fruit trees,'' says Muller, pouring shots ofher family's zesty mirabelle, a plum drink from Lorraine. ``Beet alcohol burns the mouth,'' adds Muller, manager ofthe Paris office of the theatrical ticketing company KeithProwse/Seatem Group. ``The eau de vie the government allows to besold in the supermarkets is industrial waste, disgusting.''
More Stills
Back in the barn, Barre props a foot atop a glass jug.``Only bouilleurs know how to pick fruits right,'' he says. Ittakes between 5 and 10 kilograms of fruit to make 1 liter ofgnole. This season, Barre concocted 2,000 liters, charging 5.10euros a liter, with a 10-liter minimum. Barre fears there are children in France today who don'tknow what gnole is. Over the past 30 years, more than 1,000 ofhis bouilleurs have stopped planting trees and fermenting mash.``I have 147 clients left, and they'll soon be out of business,''he says. Still, obtaining a bottle of gnole requires a whisper and aconnection -- or, at least, that's what people say. Barre says he has heard that more and more farm folks arebuilding stills and not telling the revenue agents. ``I haven't taken the still out of the barn for years,''Barre says. ``Last time I went out, someone stole all the copperpots and pipes.''
--Editor: Ahearn (djh/apb).
To contact the reporter on this story:A. Craig Copetas in Quincy-Voisin, France, at +33-1-4910-9920 or

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