Abstract: Phylloxera, Price Volatility, and Institutional Innovation in France's Domestic Wine Markets, 1870-1911

James Simpson


A series of large demonstration in France's Midi in 1907 culminated in over half a million people protesting in Montpellier against low prices and the sale of artificial wines. At the same time in Bordeaux many of the leading quality wine producers were obliged to sell their future harvests at fixed prices to merchants, while growers of ordinary wines lobbied local and national governments to be included in the new regional "Bordeaux" appellation. Finally, in 1911 troops were needed in the Champagne region to stop the destruction of wines that had been brought to Reims and Epernay for making into "champagne." This paper argues that the cause of these very different events was the instability in wine markets produced by the disease phylloxera. As this caused domestic shortages, some growers and merchants turned to alternative supplies that they were reluctant to surrender when production recovered and wine prices fell sharply from the late nineteenth century. Growers sought government intervention to reduce supplies for domestic consumption, to help police the sector against the sale of artificial wines, and to facilitate the ability of consumers to distinguish between "ordinary" and "quality" wines more easily. By contrast, those merchants who had established markets based on low prices fiercely opposed the measures.