By Vinously Francais AKA Stephane
*One of the four wine bloggers for Vinously Speaking Wine Blog
In several of my visits to the US over the last couple years, it seems many people still have the impression that the French have the same abundant wine drinking habits of the 1950-60s.
I hate to burst your bubbles, but that is no longer the case.
While France is still the 4th country in the world in terms of wine consumption per capita (as of 2009), our wine consumption has been constantly decreasing over the last decade. Current wine consumption in France is at a level that is the best in terms of public health and in helping to increase the quality of wine consumed overall, but if it continues to decrease at the same rate, are we in jeopardy of becoming a wine producing country but only for export markets? Will the coming French generations lose the ever-famous ‘French wine appreciation skills? Quelle horreur!
So what’s causing this semi-drastic wine consumption decrease?
The first key event in this decline would be the implementation of stricter ‘drinking and driving’ policies. For example, ten years ago, one could attend one of the numerous wine festivals held in the various wine producing villages of France, drink to the heart’s content and hop in their Peugeot and drive home. Now … every exit from these wine villages during said wine festivals are guarded by the police and every driver is mandated to blow into a breathalyzer on the spot, any rejections and they take possession of your license and car! Needless to say this has made having a designated driver very important. This same policy is also enforced in the downtowns of all cities in France on weekend evenings or at random. This has caused many French people to order half bottles of wine for dinner or most often to refrain from ordering any alcoholic beverages at all at restaurants or evenings out. And while larger cities in France have metro systems for people to use to get around to avoid these strict ‘drinking and driving laws’, many of the smaller cities around France, people drive their cars to go into the city. While this policy is better for public safety, there is no doubt it has greatly contributed to the the decrease in French wine consumption.
The second reason for wine consumption decline would have to be the adoption of the Evin Act (Loi Evin) on January 1991, a law aimed at forbidding alcoholic beverage companies to advertise towards the youth. Funny enough, the name of the congressman who initiated this legislation is one letter away from “vin” which, as you VS readers know, means “wine” in French. The antithesis of a “destined name” non? While this law was meant to forbid all alcoholic beverages, many of the student parties on campuses are still sponsored by hard liquor producers, or at least still were when I was a student 4 years ago ;-), as most of the hard liquor sold in France is produced by 3 big companies who have huge financial means to take advantage of the loopholes of this law. On the other hand, wine producers are so numerous and have no platform to join together, that they have no way to implement a strategy to compete with these hard liquor giants and thus, the young french adults are not reminded of wine and are turning to hard liquor as their drink of choice.
The third reason I think my country’s wine consumption levels are dropping is due to fact that most of the French youth suffer from an extended adolescence crisis making them want to differentiate themselves from their parents and their habits. For example, the current adult and older generations consume wine with evening meals at home, and on Saturday and Sunday lunches and dinners, considering it a way to enhance meals, but the younger generations want nothing more than to NOT do what their parents do and choose beer, cocktails or non-alcoholic beverages to wash down their meals instead.
So while I am happy to report that the French are drinking wine in a way that promotes better health and safety, I begin to wonder if the latter two reasons are ones that will cause France to be a country that only exports its wines as opposed to enjoying and appreciating them? What do you think?