The figures were thrown up by the latest five-year study conducted by state intervention board FranceAgriMer. They show that only 17 percent of French people drink wine regularly – i.e. every day – compared with 21 percent in 2005. Running parallel with this decrease is a rise in the number of marginal drinkers (once or twice a week or less), which went from 41 percent in 2005 to 45 percent in 2010. A bottle or jug of wine is no longer a permanent fixture on tables in French households as it was a few decades ago; most French people now consider wine to be a festive drink, suited more to special occasions. The price may have something to do with this: in times of recession, products like wine tend to be considered as luxury items and are amongst the first to fall victim to spending cuts. But the fact that wine is now classed as a luxury, and therefore expendable, speaks volumes about its current role in French lifestyle. Wine consumption has dropped from 160 litres per person (aged 15+) per year in 1965 to 57 litres in 2010. And these latest figures would seem to lend credence to the idea supported by many, that the downward spiral is not about to stop. In fact, many industry members believe that wine is the primary target of anti-alcohol lobbies – due to its prevalence in the French psyche – and that year after year of adverse campaigning have taken their toll on wine’s image, the willingness of the French to drink it and the stigma attached to overtly being a regular drinker. The market is also increasingly polarised, with on the one hand, the traditional, ageing population of regular wine imbibers and on the other, younger generations who have espoused wine – in fact they are rejuvenating its image – but eschew the negative connotations associated with daily wine drinking and therefore only drink on special occasions. The only good news from the study is that the number of non-drinkers did not increase and remained stable at 38 percent.
Perhaps one of the most disheartening results of the study is that the French seem to be increasingly modelling their lifestyle on US consumer habits, with fizzy drinks and juices now replacing water and wine at the dinner table. The much-lauded Mediterranean diet is now for many only a distant memory.