A young French winemaker and suspected member of a wine militant group has been arrested after an explosion at his winery in southern France.

 

34-year-old Jérôme Soulère remained in custody today (28 July) at Villeneuve Les Maguelones, near Montpellier in Languedoc Roussillon, under suspicion of manufacturing explosives.

 

His arrest comes as local wine union leaders warn of growing frustration over low prices and rising debts.

 

Police were alerted to a "sudden explosion" at Soulère's winery at Malviès near Narbonne last Thursday, Nicolas Boudon, regional head of the Young Farmers' union, told just-drinks.

 

Recent weeks have seen a return to mass winemaker protests and attacks by members of militant winemaker group, the Comité Régional d'Action Viticole (Crav). The group regularly uses amateur, small-scale explosives against its targets, which have included supermarkets, Spanish wine lorries and speed cameras.

 

On 17 July, several balaclava-clad activists attacked the Val d'Orbieu co-operative near Narbonne, destroying up to 500,000 litres of wine at an estimated cost of EUR300,000 (US$472,000). The signature Crav letters were found spray-painted on a nearby wall. Val d'Orbieu is one of the region's largest wine companies.

 

"The situation is becoming very tense," said Boudon, who added some winemakers faced financial ruin.

 

French agriculture minister Michel Barnier recently promised EUR2m to help relieve winery debts.

 

Critics have argued that many of Languedoc's wine co-operatives have not done enough to adapt to consumer palates.