Wine consumption is changing, again and always...

From wine as a "staple" to wine as a "pleasure," from everyday ordinary drinking to a social event, from "rough reds" to a product listed as part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity, wine and its consumption have undergone significant changes.

Gone are the days when wine in France was considered "the healthiest, most hygienic of beverages" (Pasteur, 1866), at a time when the provision of potable water in the home was far from widespread. Produced and consumed in large quantities, wine was part of the daily diet: it was believed to give strength and health to workers – and even to schoolchildren, who were served red wine in the school cafeteria until 1956 – and it was called upon to boost the morale of the soldiers during the First World War.

The reorganisation of French vineyards following the devastation caused by phylloxera at the end of the 19th century, and the subsequent overproduction that caused a proliferation of mediocre, even fraudulent "rough reds", led to the creation of the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in 1935, a concept governed by strict production rules. From this point on, a clear distinction was established between ordinary everyday wine and high-quality wine from a recognised terroir.

Thus, against a backdrop of increasingly strong and repressive efforts to combat alcoholism, a definitive opposition emerged between drinking a lot and drinking well. "Rough" wines were eliminated by the emergence of oenological science and ordinary wine consumption decreased, while the consumption of fine – and more expensive – wines grew, with an increasingly "standardized" profile (uniform planting of dominant grape varieties, multiplication of chemical treatments and oenological additives). The area covered by vineyards in France shrunk from the approximately 2 million hectares pre-phylloxera, to 1.4 million hectares in the 1960s and 800,000 hectares today. However, the prevailing culture of productivism still governs a huge level of production in France (45 million hectoliters, on average) and in Europe, while globalisation has led to the explosion of New World wine production. Consumption has irreversibly declined (-70%), from 127 litres per person per year in 1960 to 40 litres in 2022; today, regular consumers are an estimated 11% of the population. The concept of wine as a "staple" has all but disappeared and consumer demographics have changed; we are now in an era of wine drinking as a "pleasure activity", integrated in a gastronomic and cultural approach: it is a symbol of civilization, honored in 2010 by UNESCO's promotion of the "French gastronomic meal" as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

Through the considerable evolution of vineyards and the consumption of their produce, wine itself has changed, a transformation now further emphasised by the necessities of environmental protection (against chemical inputs), the constraints of climate change (issues with alcohol content) and the adaptations required by overproduction (uprooting vines; the distillation of surplus wine). In this context, the paradigms of wine production are evolving: the demands for healthier vine cultivation and winemaking have, since the 1960s, led to the rise of organic viticulture and then organic wine (certified in 2012 by European legislation), with a strong desire to give (back) meaning to agricultural/viticultural activities – cue the rise of biodynamics – and the quest for the most natural wines possible. These “natural” wines, increasingly popular among today's "drinkers", are those that respect the life of the soil, the life of the plant... and the life of the consumer!