In 2018, France was the second biggest wine consuming country behind the US, with 27 million hectoliters of wine consumed. The consumption per capita is even more interesting: on average, a French person drinks 43 liters of wine in one year’s time. That is much more than the average 10 liters drank by an American person, and way more than the average 1 liter drank by a Chinese person. But why do French people love wine so much ?
A very ancient history
A mosaic representation of Ancient Greeks’ love for wine and music
The very first vineyards in France were planted by Greek settlers in Marseille, 600 years before Christ. However, it is after the conquest of Gaul by the Romans (50 before Christ) that viticulture really took off in France. The French quickly developed strong knowledge of how to cultivate vines, how to prune them and figured what types of soil they prefer. Vineyards extended during the first century in the Rhône valley, appeared during the second century in Burgundy and in Bordeaux, reached Loire Valley during the third century and finally Champagne and Moselle during the fourth century. Even Paris was back then a very important wine hub - which today is non-existant.
An old map of French wine regions
The French were excellent winemakers, improved the techniques of winemaking brought by the Romans and invented the ageing of wine in oak barrels. Later during the Middle-Age and with the expansion of Christianism, churches became important owners of vineyards, where wine was made by monks to use during masses. During the 10th centry, Bordeaux wine started to be heavily exported to England on boats as the English became very found of it. Back then, wine was already consumed by a very wide range of people in France, from the poor to the noble, including women and children. Wine was indispensable for the masses, was used as an exchange currency, an economic strength and a way for Kings to welcome and greet their guests.
At Versailles, wine was an important part of the feasts
Thanks to monarchy in France, the winemaking and wine drinking culture really became part of the nation's culture. It became the beverage of the people. Later on, winemaking techniques continued to evolve, quality consistently increased, and important events contributed to French wine being admired in the world with the classification of 1855 of Bordeaux wines created by Napelon III or the cristal Champagne created in 1876 for Alexander II of Russia.
A healthy beverage
A 1950 wine label from Hospices de Beaune (Beaune's Hospital)
Since the Middle-Age and until the 19th century, wine was administrated by doctors to sick patients as a medicine. In Hospices de Beaune, a religious hospital built during the 15th century in Burgundy, sick patients would be required to drink up to 3 liters of wine per day as a part of their treatment to cure their disease ! Even Louis XIV was advised by his personal doctor to drink the old wines from Burgundy as part of a diet program. It showed benefic effects on the King and the whole royal court started to be fascinated about these wines.
Obviously, with modern health techniques, wine stopped to be a part of serious disease treatments, but it remains today linked with health. Very recent researchs from INSERM (National Institute of Health and Research) show that "resveratrol", a molecule contained in grapes’ skins has properties which help reduce cardio-vascular deseases and is still researched today as apart of the fight against cancer.
Cheese and wine are an important part of French diet, yet the rate of cardio-vascular deseases is lower than other countries
The health benefits of red wine is a well-known topic in France and even was one of the topics used in a vast study called the « French Paradox », which attempts to justify the contradiction between the high-calory French food diet and the low rate of cardio-vascular deseases (4 times lower than UK or US). Still today, French people believe that a regular and moderate consumption of wine contributes to good health.
A noble product
Wine is considered an essential part of the French meal
During the Middle-Age, wine was mainly consumed by higher-society people, such as royal members, nobles and churchpeople. It was one of the tools used to create social recognition. However, later on wine became widely consumed by all kinds of people, shaping the modern consumer habits known today in France. Nevertheless, it always kept the image of a noble product, which has to be consumed in a respectful and responsible way.
Today in France, wine is an alcohol which is drunk with moderation, especially as a part of meals, as opposed to beer or spirits which are generally preferred by the young during more festive occasions. French people are aware of the hard work which is done all year long by the winemaker in order to deliver a quality beverage, full of aromas and complexity, which will match their different kinds of food, depending on the type of the wine.
The French are concerned with different glasses for different types of wine
When drinking a glass of wine, the French like to use appropriate glassware in order to be in perfect conditions to appreciate the flavours and aromas. Of course, different levels of quality are available in the French market and people generally match the budget allocated to the wine depending on the occasion. But since great quality wines are available from very reasonnable prices, a wide category of people, from the young student to the wealthy businessman, can always enjoy a glass of good wine.
A part of modern culture
Harvesting grapes is a famous family activity in France
In 2017, France produced 37 million hectolitres of wine, being the 2nd biggest producer of wine that year behind Italy. There is always a friendly competition going on every year with Spain and Italy to know who will get the first rank in the biggest wine producing country. And when France is being surpassed, they say it is because they value quality over quantity ! Out of all the wine produced in France, 70% is consumed by the French, while the rest is exported to Europe or elsewhere in the world.
French people truly love their wine. In fact, 9 bottles out of 10 bottles consumed in France are French. It is a part of French people’s daily life, as an average of 1,3 glass of wine is consumed per day and per inhabitant. The French like to drink wine during the meals, which is their most preffered occasion to drink wine. However, many young people also like to drink it on its own, or with some snacks, typically during what they call « l’apéro », which is a moment before the dinner, where family members or friends gather in the living-room and drink wine with cheese or ham, as a way to open the appetite for the dinner to follow. Wine is also very widely consumed in the bars, whereas in the nightclubs, hard liquors are preferred.
"L'apéro" is a major activity for French people
French people also have seasonality in their way of consuming wine. In the spring and summer, when temperature rises and sunlight enables outside consumption, the French mainly drink white and rosé wines as it is considered refreshing and fruity. They like to drink it on their terraces or gardens, or even in the public parks in the cities. During winter or autumn time, red wine tends to be preferred as it generally has stronger character and goes well with winter foods, such as red meat, sauce dishes or strongly flavoured vegetables. Sparkling wines tend to be consumed all year long and sees a peak consumption during Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
French President Macron is very found of good wine
Overall, the French recognize their strong wine consuming habits and are proud about it, consciously integrating it as a part of their daily life and culture. French president Emmanuel Macron recently said during a national agricultural fair "I drink wine everyday at lunch and dinner", which confirms that wine is simply a part of the French "Art de vivre". Today, wine is considered by the French nation as their own good, just like its 360 types of cheeses.
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