Facts – and Fantasies – about French Wine

Vines next to the Pont Valentré, Cahors: PhotoXpress

Vines next to the Pont Valentré, Cahors: PhotoXpress

Today was cold, damp, miserable and unpleasant. So let’s forget the weather and le ras-le-bol fiscal (discontent about taxes). Instead, let’s warm ourselves in front of the fire with a glass – or two – of one of France’s best-loved products: wine.

Supply and demand

International bank Morgan Stanley recently put the chat parmi les pigeons by predicting a worldwide shortage of wine – Heaven forbid! It put this down to poor harvests and fewer vineyards and said that demand exceeded supply by 300 million cases in 2012. This would get worse as consumption continued to exceed production. Experts leapt to debunk the findings and controversy now reigns. An article here puts the different points of view. In fact, the French grape harvests were better than expected in 2013, despite the wet spring.

The number of hectares under vines has certainly decreased in France. Our neighbour, now in his 80s, tells us that this whole area was formerly planted with vines. However, most of this was for the farmers’ own consumption. This is not an ideal wine growing area – we are between the Cahors and Gaillac vignobles – and the production was probably un petit vin, or ‘veng’ as they say here, with a low alcohol content. We have sampled wine from a small, private vineyard in a nearby commune. Not exactly Château Lafitte.

Vine at Saint-Grat

Autumn vine at Saint-Grat

Wine consumption has decreased in France too, even if the country is said to be the premier wine consumer in the world. In 1965, consumption was 160 litres per head per year. In 2012, it had reduced to a third of that – 53.2 litres/head. Fewer people are drinking wine with meals on a regular basis. There’s a generation factor, too. Young people are less likely to drink wine than their parents.

A degenerate civilisation?

People disagree about whether the reduction in consumption is a good thing. Some say that it symbolises the degeneration of French civilisation and the decline of conviviality and respect for tradition. I think that’s going a little far. It’s clearly better for your health not to drink too much – and other people’s, if the decrease in deaths on the roads is anything to go by. The SF says that, when he lived in Limoges in the 70s, the workmen on the scaffolding outside his top-floor flat consumed a litre of red wine – each – before 11am.

Apparently, the only country in the world that is planting more vines is China. I hope they have learned a few things about winemaking since we last tasted Chinese wine. In the days before the euro, the SF and I bought – for 10 francs – a bottle of Chinese white from Leclerc, out of curiosity. We took one sip; it was like paint stripper. We poured it down the sink. Only afterwards did we realise that we might have killed the fosse septique. Thankfully, we didn’t.

Facts – and fantasy

To end, a few facts from a short feature in last weekend’s Le Figaro magazine:

  • 17 out of 22 French regions produce wine.
  • France is the 2nd biggest wine producer (44 million hectolitres) after Italy (45 million hectolitres).
  • Wine is France’s second biggest export, after the aeronautics industry.
  • Red wine remains the most popular (60% by volume); second is rosé (23%); white is last (17%).

The most expensive bottle of wine ever sold? A Cheval Blanc 1947 for 224,000 € in 2010. It was a 6-litre bottle and thus very rare. I’m not sure that counts. I’d rather go for the Château Yquem 1811 sold for 85,000 € in 2011. We’ll have two.

Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

You might also like

Wine Blight: How the French Wine Industry was almost Wiped Out
French Wine Fairs
Wine is Bottled Poetry
Black Wine and Secret Gardens in Cahors
Blithe Spirits: Quirky French Apéritifs

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About Vanessa Couchman

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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5 Responses to Facts – and Fantasies – about French Wine

  1. amelie88 says:

    It’s interesting you mentioned China in this post. My French cousin and his Chinese girlfriend moved to Shanghai earlier this year to work in the Chinese wine industry, which is apparently growing very fast. They were both involved in the French wine industry before leaving for China and even I was surprised to learn there was a demand for Chinese wine.

  2. Evelyn says:

    I was at lunch this week with some friends…obscure restaurant in a tiny village in the middle-of-no-where Aveyron. It was a ‘workman’s lunch’ restaurant and there were 3 or 4 groups of workers eating their hearty lunch…all with a glass of red wine. I observed… each one drank at least two glasses. To be fair, many of them were diluting it with water. But in the States…you would not see workers drinking on their lunch hour. diluted or not It might even be grounds for dismissal if discovered!

    • nessafrance says:

      We have seen the same thing in similar places. It’s certainly not the done thing in England anymore to drink at lunchtime. But the French have the habit of drinking wine to accompany the meal and don’t often drink more than a couple of glasses. Presumably the workers sweated it off quickly in the afternoon!

  3. Paola says:

    Wow, that 1965 statistic really surprised me…almost half a bottle a day for every person in France, including every teetotaler and teeny baby! As kids, whenever we visited Italy, we would get a little drop of wine in our water at lunch and dinner. This seemed to be the done thing throughout Italy – my mother always claimed that it was good for kids to get used to drinking wine as a convivial pastime, and it avoided the drunken pub behaviour you get in the UK. But I’m not convinced that it’s that positive – one would need to check the liver cirrhosis figures…

    • nessafrance says:

      Apparently, the French government launched an advertising campaign in the 70s to try to reduce drinking. The slogan was ‘No more than a bottle a day’! Formerly, children in France were given wine but it was diluted with water. Stats show that French people used to die more often of cancers linked with drinking but less often from heart disease than the British.

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