Washington Lawmakers Urge French Wine Boycott

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A group of state lawmakers want you to boycott French wine because of the French government's opposition to war in Iraq.

But like any good sommelier, they're happy to suggest a substitute: homegrown Washington wine.

Rep. Bruce Chandler, a Republican, has sponsored a measure asking the people of Washington state and the rest of the country to "completely refrain from buying, selling, giving and consuming French waters and wines as long as France continues its unreasonable and ungrateful opposition" to the U.S. military action in Iraq.

"It's a way of promoting Washington's wine products," Chandler said. "It's a chance to support people who support us."

His measure also calls on the American people to "enthusiastically participate" in the buying and drinking of Washington wine. Washington's $2.4 billion wine industry ranks second in domestic production after California's.

While he acknowledged he's no marketing expert, Chandler said patriotic wine promotion could be the next big thing for Washington vintages.

But the wine boosters at the Washington Wine Institute weren't taking the merlot-scented bait.

"You'll never see Washingtonians discount another wine region," communications director Stacie Jacob said. "It isn't for me to say our wines are better - we'll leave that to the critics and the consumers."

Jack Cowan, director of the French-American Chamber of Commerce in Seattle, said he was disappointed but not angry about the resolution.

"France and the United States have had a relationship for over 200 years," Cowan said, predicting that the current tensions will fade. Besides, he added, "French people appreciate Washington wines."

Rep. Bill Grant, a Walla Walla Democrat and a co-sponsor of Chandler's measure, just laughed when asked about it.

"It's just a way to say, 'Drink Washington wine,'" said Grant, who said his district is home to more than 50 vineyards.

He pointed out that Legislative memorials have no real power. Around Olympia, they're sometimes called "letters to Santa Claus."

Grant said he doesn't have any particular complaint with France, although he understands many people feel strongly about the issue.

"I'll let them do their government and I'll just try to do this one in Washington state," Grant said. "We've got enough problems without trying to run Europe."

Some local wine merchants say they haven't seen a strong Francophobe sales trend.

Chuck LeFevre, owner of Esquin Wine Merchants, said the politics of wine-buying cut both ways in Seattle, where anti-war sentiment runs high: some people are snubbing French products, while others seek them out to support France's anti-war stance.

So far, LeFevre said, they've canceled each other out.