Turmoil over wine ads on the web dates back to a court case in France last February against international beer giant Heineken, which forced it to close its French website.
The judge in the case ruled that because the Internet was not on a 1991 list of approved media for alcohol publicity, web-based wine ads were therefore illegal.
The fact the internet did not exist in its current form at the time was taken into account, but only to the extent that the court advised that the 1991 law - known as the "Loi Evin" which governs alcohol and tobacco publicity - be updated. Heineken is currently appealing the case.
"In France whatever is not legal is illegal, in America it is the other way around, that is why we are in this incomprehensible situation," said Patrick Bernard, director of one of Bordeaux's biggest online wine providers, Millesima.
Somewhere Ronald Reagan is smiling. But not France's best known winemakers:
...the Heineken ruling is further complicated by a case which in November 2004 concluded that any mention of an alcoholic drink product be considered to be publicity.
The result of the two cases combined are widely understood by the trade as having outlawed the Internet as a means of communication for all alcoholic drinks in France, with wine being the hardest hit.
"We are in an absurd situation," said Marie Christine Tarby, president of Vin et Societe, an association that has been battling to have the Internet included as one of the state approved mediums for alcohol publicity.
....Asked if the current laws, taken to their logical conclusion meant the sites of the most iconic Bordeaux chateau, including Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour, Lafite and Yquem, as well as any others, are in fact illegal, Tarby said yes.
And Microsoft believes her:
Apart from the legal aspect, Tarby said self censorship would quickly kick in. She said a move by Microsoft to deactivate all key words and publicity links relating to wine sales as of June 1 on its French MSN site, has fulfilled her predictions.
"In effect [French] law underlines that the Internet is not one of the approved mediums for alcohol publicity," said the message from Microsoft adCenter, sent last month.
The unprecedented move, which wine professionals see as a major threat, has yet to be followed by Yahoo or Google, but if it were, said Julien Pichoff of the French online wine blog and search engine Findawine.com, it would be the end of wine sales on the web -- which are authorised.