Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite Agricole

Thursday, 18th January 2018 by Farr Vintners

On the 8th January 2018, Farr Vintners' chairman, Stephen Browett, was made a "Chevalier" of  the "Ordre du Mérite Agricole" by the French Ambassador to the UK, M Jean-Pierre Jouyet at a ceremony in London - in recognition of services to the French wine industry. The Order of Merit is second only to the Legion d’Honneur, which is the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits, established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte.

Stephen Browett, Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite Agricole


This is the Ambassador’s speech from the ceremony:

“It’s a very great pleasure to be with you today to present four distinguished figures with the insignia of the Mérite agricole, a decoration which holds a special place in our Republic and its agricultural and rural community.

As many of you know, the Mérite agricole is one of our oldest honours:  it was created in eighteen-eighty-three by Jules Méline, the brand new Agriculture Minister at the time, on his appointment to the post.  He wanted the honour to reward and recognize, I quote, “the hard labour and devotion” of more than eighteen million French people in the countryside.  The Third Republic, still very much in its infancy, placed all its hopes in them and wanted to build and consolidate its foundations on them.

The Mérite agricole, which was very soon nicknamed the “leek” because of its white medal and green ribbon, has stood the test of time.  Its recipients are just as honoured and proud to wear it today as they were back then.

The reasons for shining a spotlight on the agricultural and agrifood sector and the men and women who, one way or another, put their heart and soul into developing and promoting it, are more relevant than ever, given how central the key issues it raises are to people’s concerns and society as a whole.

President Macron made it a priority in his election campaign:

The national food conference, which the Prime Minister brought to a close on the twenty-first of December after five months of intense work – with fourteen national discussion groups bringing together seven-hundred participants – maps out a rich, ambitious action plan for the next five years, based on three major objectives:

  • to boost value creation and ensure its fair distribution, in particular to allow farmers to make a decent living from their work
  • to support the transformation of production models in order to better meet consumer expectations
  • to promote consumer choices which favour healthy, safe and sustainable food everyone can afford

One of this action plan’s priorities which is of the utmost interest to us here in the UK (which, I remind you, is our third-largest export market) is about boosting France’s image internationally.

The creation of a unified “Brand France” is being considered, and on the twenty-first of March this year I shall be hosting the fourth Goût de France, or Good France, at the French Residence, where produce from the Grand Aquitaine region will be given pride of place.

Recognition of and respect for our geographical indications and our quality labels worldwide – including in the UK, once it has left the EU – are just as strategic, particularly in the wines and spirits industry, which many of you do business in.

Against a background of deep uncertainty and possible tension in the coming months as we enter the second phase of the negotiations, which will set out the conditions for a transition period and the principles of the future relationship, I think the Association des Membres de l’Ordre du Mérite agricole – which brings us French and British together through a common passion for France, its products and its terroirs – is more meaningful and relevant than ever.  On its own small scale, it must play its role of rallying together, unifying and keeping doors open between our two countries.

But let’s now get back to why we are here today!

There are four of you here tonight who have been singled out by the Agriculture Minister for recognition.

Anne, Gérard, Stephen, Edward, your careers are extremely remarkable and very different, but they all have one thing in common:  a passion for wine, and more specifically – and exclusively for some of you – French wine.

For decades, you have tirelessly presented on the market and promoted to British consumers the richness of what France has to offer, its wealth of diversity, its uniqueness, its history and its terroirs, which we cherish so much and are so proud of.  You’ve also been able to decipher this offer, whose complexity at times makes it difficult to understand and access.

You champion our know-how and our terroirs, and you’re mad about wine and champagne; that’s why the Minister wishes to pay tribute to you and reward you.

The Republic awards the Mérite agricole in recognition of individuals’ commitment and services rendered.  But this mustn’t be the end point!  It is, of course, an appeal to go on as you’ve been doing and fly our flag even more enthusiastically!  Thank you for this.

So, I’m now going to present you with the insignia of the Mérite agricole, which you so richly deserve.

The Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite Medal

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