Fading image of the French wine drinker

The French have long had a global reputation for drinking wine day and night, beginning with children being started with watered-down versions, then continuing to imbibe throughout life.

Well, that no longer is true.

Just 16.5% of the French population now now regular wine drinkers, according to the latest survey from the ESC Pau research center and Toulouse 1 Capitole University. French wine consumption has dropped the equivalent of one bottle per adult each week in two generations.

Regular consumption over meals has been replaced by the French drinking wine occasionally rather than frequently, often on nights out, a pattern of behavior that has developed over the past two generations.

In their study published in the International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business, Pascal Poutet and Thierry Lorey looked at successive generations and their approach to wine drinking, dividing the demographic into four groups.

The oldest was those over 65 years who had lived through the World War II, followed by those between 40 and 65 who lived through a period of growth and worldwide development.

Those 30 to 40 -- "Generation X" -- who grew up through the French economic and political crises of the 1990s, were next, followed by those under 30 -- the Internet generation.

"Each successive generation represents a general increase in libertarian attitudes and irreverence towards institutions," Poluet said.

It is the over-65s who most linked wine consumption with French heritage and were more likely to drink it daily and share the experience. The middle groups are much more occasional drinkers and drink more socially with friends rather than family, and social status is a factor in their wine consumption. For the under-30s, wine consumption is very much the exception rather than the rule.

"There is a dual gap between the three generations, older, middle-aged, younger -- on the one hand, the consumption frequency gap (from a daily wine consumption to a festive one, and then exceptional), on the other, the pleasure gap," evolution from a genuine pleasure towards a more ostentatious pleasure, more difficult to perceive for the younger generation, according to Poulet."

The younger generations may still take pride in French wine but have little awareness of its cultural place in French history, he said.

"It is precisely the progressive loss of the identity, sacred and imaginary representations of wine over three generations that explains France’s global consumption attitudes, and especially the steep decline in the volumes of wine consumed."

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