jamie goode's wine blog: Are the French serious about killing their wine industry?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Are the French serious about killing their wine industry?

Take a look at this news article:

Thanks to Wink Lorch for the link. See Wink's perspective here

I love French wine and I'd love to see all segments of the French wine industry succeed. It's such a shame that growers have to fight not just against market forces, but also against their own government.

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At 11:10 PM, Blogger Gavin said...

This is all politics. Things have been leading up to this: drink driving law changes, bans on some types of advertising, lots more anti-alcohol advertising, talk of increasing the drinking age, regular comments by the President that he does not drink or recommend drinking alcohol.

Most surprising is the fact that these days it is more common in Paris or Lyon to see a young French person drinking cola than alcohol. I think the reason for this is fashion, cost, health concerns (about weight gain, not cancer) and a preference for other (illegal) drugs.

That said, France has big problems with alcohol (contrary to popular belief). The issue is not binge drinking, which is the most obvious problem in the UK, Australia and North America but with traditional alcoholism -- dependence on the regular consumption of alcohol. Such behaviour, drinking small amounts continuously throughout the day, has been largely ignored until recently. Unfortunately, the people affected remain largely functional until they drop dead at a very early age.

I think the critical issue over the next few years will be to do with the spin that daily consumption of alcohol improves your health. Just about anything -- heroin, petrol, mud -- can be shown to have some positive effect on some part of the body if studied in isolation. The question is really the overall effect. I think governments, such as Sarkozy's, which have an anti-alcohol agenda will attack this extremely hard.

At 3:01 AM, Blogger Dan McGrew said...

To paraphrase Ric in Casblanca, "We'll always have Italy....and Spain, and Portugal, and Germany, and New Zealand, and Australia, and Austria and Chile, and Argentina and the U.S....."

At 8:21 AM, Anonymous Craig McGinty said...

It looks as though their was a bit of 'over excitement' on this, Charles Bremner has an update:


At 8:36 AM, Anonymous Doug said...

My first reaction is "all the more great French wine for us".

My second reaction is that is a typical flim-flam press report based on circumstantial evidence. No French grower that I've spoken to is worried about this new presbyterian culture.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger Wink Lorch said...

Since I alerted Jamie to this debate, a couple of comments on the comments so far:
1) I think there was necessary over-excitement on this matter, Craig, it's important that wine lovers who love France's wine culture are aware of what has been going on there now for several years. But thanks for posting the link to Charles Bremner's piece, which is reassuring to some extent.
2) Doug, I totally disagree with your second comment - this is not circumstantial evidence. I don't know which wine producers you've been talking to, and sure they try to put on a good front (wouldn't you?) but all the growers I've been talking to over the past few years as this issue has been building and building, have been mightily concerned. And, what's more, where I live part-time in a non-wine growing area in a very French ski resort (only about 10% British tourists), I watch the French drinking less and less with their meals even on holiday and I hear them occasionally discussing their worries and their increasing disinterest in drinking wine. I've been starting to think that if it wasn't for the English drinking wine in the local restaurants, they wouldn't even bother to serve more than house wine any more. This does need to be discussed.

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Jim Budd said...

Unfortunately too many French producers also have a propensity to fight each other – cru bourgeois, St Emilion classification, three syndicats in Châteauneuf, death of Vognobles de France etc.

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous D said...

Wink - I think consumption may well be diminishing in France but, if we are talking purely about quality wines, the story may be less gloomy than portrayed. We represent several hundred small and medium sized French growers and I can vouch for the fact that never has the competition been fiercer to acquire agency agreements and secure allocations. If so much wine has to be allocated then I wouldn't worry about the fragility of the French home market. And, whilst the export market to UK is strengthening in this regard, look also at the States and Japan, China, India and Russia. We ship throughout the world and, believe me, French wines are what everyone is clamouring for.

Nor are growers chasing the market. If they were we would see a definite softening on the prices. I am not saying that it is the same for every grower, but the vast majority of ours are operating as normal.

On the other side we go to Paris almost weekly and are constantly amazed at the phenomenal number of super busy wine bars and specialist wine shops. I think we may begin to reclassify the French into those who are drinking interesting wines and those who never got into drinking wine at all. It is not part of the "yoof culture", but that is not to say that it is not still very part of the eating and drinking culture which still beats very strongly.

Potentially far more harmful than the reduction in home consumption (and, is this news - the downward spiral began years ago?!) is the global recession and the strength of the euro. And some tricky vintages.

As for the article itself it's rather vague, and chockful of hazy assertions and counter-assertions and suggestive of puritanical conspiracy. Do we really think French growers will be forbidden from doing tastings? And, as for advertising, what effect do we think that will have? Does anti-cannabis advertising in this country have any effect on people's habits? Drink-driving was a far more sensible and sensitive campaign, because it didn't preach that you couldn't drink, but that you shouldn't drink and drive. Regarding health I've seen two more contradictory surveys published in the last week in this country about the benefits/dangers of wine (delete as inapplicable). It's enough to drive you to drink.

I am reminded of the anti-pc and anti-EEC movement who propogated myths and scare stories about ridiculous decrees and crazy spaghetti red tape - all untrue. Whilst I wouldn't put it past the French government to enact some of the mooted legislation I can imagine it would be more honoured in the breach than the observance.

And some laws aren't a bad idea. The number of drink-related road accidents was appalling in France. You can change a culture without destroying its fundamental identity.

And who cares whether the little puffed up Napoleon of a president drinks or not? He is now so unpopular that a lot of young people will do precisely the opposite of anything he decrees!

At 5:34 PM, Anonymous Bertrand said...

Hi Jamie,
I think the problem has more to do with (excuse me) stupid/unelected judges and with the impunity with which the "associations" (non-profit groups who often enjoy lots of state money but have a very limited following) sue anyone to force us to comply with their political (often) or puritan (as for wine) agenda. Sarkozy doesn't drink wine but has nothing again the wine culture and the vignerons as far as I know. The "associations" do, and they are never punished by heavy fines when they waste the taxpayer' money with futile trials when they lose them.


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