The enoblogosphere is reeling today in the wake of a French researcher's report published this week (and circulated today on the Internets). According to the survey (conducted by FranceAgriMer, an independent agricultural industry observer), the French are now more likely to drink fruit juice than wine at the dinner table.
"Fewer than one in five French adults now drink wine almost every day as health concerns and a sluggish economy maintain a long-term pattern of sharply falling consumption," wrote the editors at the Agence France Presse (the French counterpart of the Associated Press), who circulated an English-language synopsis of the report presented this week in Bordeaux by its authors.
"There has also been a real shift in consumption habits: Fizzy drinks and fruit juices are taking the place of wine on the French table," said researchers.
It seems like it was just yesterday that Americans surpassed the French in their consumption of wine. In August of 2011, studies showed that "In 2010, the U.S. consumed more wine than France for the first time ever."
Has wine become an all-America pastime just as France begins to turn up its nose at one of its most iconic exports?
The very thought of a Frenchman without his wine (and I say French man because the image of a male drinking wine and wearing a beret is how many Americans perceive the French) seems to touch a nerve deep in the American psyche. To subtract wine from the French equation would be to deprive Americans of baseball, mom or apple pie (the French love their mothers, too, by the way, and they also love apple pie; it's just that in France it's called an apple tarte).
I believe that our collective reaction to a France sans vin tells us as much about ourselves as it does about our transalpine friends.
Are we comfortable with the notion of wine being the official alcoholic beverage of our country? Will we be the same when wine takes the place of Jack Daniel's and PBR at the dinner table? I think we will be (and to some extent already are), but the thought that we will lead the world in wine culture some day makes some uneasy, the same way that some of us are still getting used to the idea of gay marriage (another all-American concept). It certainly touches a heart-string in the same way: It represents a reversal in what we were instructed to believe all of our lives (I'm exaggerating here, of course, and for the record, I am a steadfast supporter of gay marriage).
One of the things that the researchers seem to have overlooked is that Europe has embraced one of America's great gifts to the world: Zero tolerance for drunk driving. In recent years, as European Union norms have been implemented, Europeans face steep penalties and consequences for drunk driving (much harsher than our own). Checkpoints are mandatory (there is no "no blow" policy) and offenders are punished not only with severe fines and potential jail time, their cars are also impounded. If they want the car back, they have to buy it back from the government at auction (no joke)!
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I just returned from Europe (and I travel there three or four times a year for my work): Designated drivers are as commonplace today among European food lovers as cigarettes. This would have been unthinkable even five years ago when reforms began to be implemented by the EU.
Maybe you can teach an old dog a new trick and maybe when it comes to wine, the French have learned something from us American quaffers. Who'd ever thunk it?