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07.13.2011

Being Proud of Your Country's Wine Doesn't Mean Anything if You Don't Drink It

Thumbnail image for 800px-Flag_of_France.pngThere are a few things you can count on no matter where you are in history. One of them is the fact that children, in general, try very hard not to grow up to become their parents. The constant rejection of what the generation before liked, stood for, and lived for has propelled many a consumer trend over the last century.

Sadly, it seems that while in America, this phenomenon is partly responsible for the current and coming surge in wine consumption, in France it may be just the opposite.

It has been widely reported over the past weeks that over the course of the last two generations, France's annual consumption of wine as a nation has dropped by three billion bottles per year, to its current rate of four billion.

On the one hand, even at this lower number the average French citizen still drinks WAY more wine per capita than the average American. But on the other hand, a 40% drop in consumption is a staggering collapse in demand. While this collapse can't be entirely attributed to generational demographic effects (the rise of a powerful and puritanical anti-alcohol movement in France isn't exactly helping either), it is clear that not only are France's younger drinkers drinking less wine, they're drinking less, period.

The news story suggests that France's younger generation remains proud of France's wine culture and heritage. But that doesn't mean anything if they're not drinking it.

While I and the rest of my compatriots are no doubt doing our share to try to drink up a lot of French wine, we're not really drinking the wine that needs to sell (the wine that usually makes up 90+% of any country's wine industry: the cheapest stuff).

Is it possible for the bottom to fall out of the French wine market without the premium end of the spectrum being affected? I don't know enough about the industry or market economics to say, but in my limited understanding of how things work, that seems fairly unlikely.

In any case, watching even a portion of the French wine industry die a slow death of starvation isn't a pleasant thing to watch, even with a glass of French wine in hand.

C'mon everyone. Drink up!

Comments (8)

Greg wrote:
07.13.11 at 11:26 PM

I was in France recently, young people seem to want to sit outside cafes drinking beer. I walked past the bar next to the hotel from a previous visit, it is now a pizzeria (why can't the french work out how to make pizza?). Where they used to like sitting in a bar to drink wine or brandy, they now want to sit outside, and a beer or cocktail looks better. French society is so conservative, I can understand that young people want to do something different. Maybe some day they will discover asian food.

Fabio wrote:
07.15.11 at 5:46 AM

Nowadays people in traditional wine-drinking countries actually have a choice of alternative drinks they can buy, ie beer, carbonated or non-carbonated soft drinks, juices, etc. All these alternatives only started becoming available and affordable in the 50's or 60's and wine's market share has been decreasing ever since! It's hardly surprising really. Most of the wine produced was table-wine and of a quality that today's consumer will just not accept. Many producers have still not realized how consumption patterns have changed in Europe and are still producing millions of litres of table wine that noone wants, and which is subsidized by European tax-payers! Wine is now competing, not just with other wines, but with beer, mineral water, colas, etc, anything liquid, you name it!!! IMHO!

Paul wrote:
07.15.11 at 8:37 AM

Fabio,

I couldn't agree with you more, however... What you see in a pizzeria shouldn't be what you judge an entire industry on. Pizzerias are notorious for pushing beer. There's lots of profit in beer, and much easier to serve than most other drinks. The rule of thumb when I go out, wait staff are sales people who influence the customer. When I walk into a restaurant, i take a quick glance at the tables and I usually can see a trend in what the wait staff are told to push. Of course you have the choice, but it's their obligation to make suggestions to the uncertain customer.

07.16.11 at 8:44 AM

While reductions in French wine consumption will have an effect on the industry, France was a national of over-consumers forty years ago.

It is good thing, not a bad thing that per capita consumption of alcohol has fallen. Just as the two-martini lunch no longer exists in this country as an expected norm, so too does the liter of wine at lunch no longer exist in France.

It was not the anti-alcohol forces that led the way back four decades ago. It was the forces of moderation who saw the need to redress a problem.

If there is a change that is generational in France in alcohol consumption, it is not for the worse or an anti-parent thing. It is, in my view, a balancing of responsibiity with consumption tied to the greater range of choices that are now avaiable.

I'm not worried about the French. I am worried about the fact that I can no longer afford my favorite Burgundies.

Joy Sterling wrote:
07.17.11 at 4:23 PM

What about here at home? This might sound self serving, but shouldn't we be drinking American wine?

Tom Nale wrote:
07.18.11 at 6:26 AM

The French wine industry shot itself in the foot when the 2000 vintage came out. It was way overpriced for the local market. So the French discovered South American, New Zealand and Australian wine priced far cheaper than the locally produced. Simple economics. Also, the French government is trying to do away with the 3rd level Bordeaux wine that typically sells for a few Euros a bottle so that the mystic of the Cru can keep accelerating in price which tha Chinese are oh so happy to buy for the prestige factor.

Neil Barham wrote:
07.18.11 at 7:46 AM

Its due to advertising laws - for years the French have tried to force their citizens to drink less, wine was hit hard by advertising laws and these laws had loop holes in them which allowed hard liquor and beer to have freedom to advertise everywhere thus converting the young to a new form of drinking alcohol.

07.18.11 at 12:26 PM

@Neil

Most youngsters nowadays don't even have the knowledge how a wine taste like.

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