In popular culture and imagination, at least, France is probably the land of wine — a land where wine culture and the wider culture are deeply intertwined. That may be changing, though, because wine consumption is in sharp decline in France. In 2008, French households drank nearly 10% less wine than they did in 2007. Some of that is because of the economy, but that's not the whole story.
The truth is that French culture and society have been changing for many years now. The old days when people would stop at a cafe and down a bottle of wine or more are long, long gone. Nearly 50 years ago, the average French adult drink over 4 times as much wine as the entire French household does today. Where will things be 10, 20, or 30 years from now?
"It's a phenomenon of the current economic situation, so we need to be prudent and not sound the alarm," said Xavier de Volontat, who heads an association of French vintners. "We'll have to be prudent vis-a-vis our members in the months to come. It's true that they're being patient, but they have to be able to get by economically."
France's chateaux and vineyards have voiced concerns for their future after seeing orders plunge since the end of 2008. But Arnaud Crete, of Chateau Listran in Bordeaux, said he has been pessimistic about the prospects for French wine for some time, as new, low-cost vintages from across the globe gain ground in the international market. "I always take the example of tomatoes," he said. "They're inedible, the tomatoes you find in supermarkets. But people buy them just the same."
"In the old days, it's true that we drank 10 times more alcohol," said Jacques Delpiroux, who runs a Paris brasserie with his wife and has worked in cafes since 1968. "The bars used to be full morning to night." In 1960, the average French adult drank almost 175 liters of wine per year — more than four times as much as the average for an entire household in 2008. And wine has been harder hit in recent years than beer or spirits — the French drink only half as much total alcohol today as 50 years ago.
Source: Associated Press
Drinking less alcohol overall is probably healthier for the people and competition from other wine producers is surely healthier for the French wine industry. Nevertheless, it is a little depressing to think about the wine culture of France changing so dramatically. Perhaps I'm just too sentimental and perhaps I'm looking at the past through wine-colored glasses. What do you think — are the changes in how wine is treated in French society and culture an improvement, a problem, or just neutral?