Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Towards a Unitary Wine Drinking Architecture

With regional/commune wine-production centers, and local foods that are perfectly matched to these wines, the Mediterranean countries of France, Italy, and Spain have long stood as the epitomization of national wine culture.  In her book French Wine Drinking Culture ..., Marion Demoisser details a number of changes in French wine production and consumption which have had material, deleterious effects on the perceived "strong national wine drinking culture."  These forces are not unique to France, as both Spain and Italy are experiencing generational change in the choice and place of drinks.  I posit that these tectonic changes are a forcing function for a decline in the national wine drinking culture.

According to Demoisser, French wine consumption stood at 170 liters per capita on the eve of WWII but had fallen to 54.8 liters by 2007 (it was 45.23 liters per capita at the end of 2009, the last year for which data are available), an almost 300% decline in a period wherein the population increased by 48%.  This decline is attributable to a number of factors: (i) In 1980, 50.7% of the population drank wine on a daily basis compared to only 20.7% in 2005; (ii) wine has been replaced by water and other beverages in many instances as the liquid accompaniment to meals; (iii) a government clampdown on drinking and driving; (iv) an increased focus on healthy living, especially among the younger generation; and (v) an increase in beer consumption among young people.

Along with the reduction in consumption, France has seen changes in the profile of wine drinkers as well as in the types of wine being consumed.  Prior to 1970, the bulk of the wine being consumed was Vin de Pays and it was being drunk primarily by the urban and working poor.  In recent years AOC wines have been consumed in greater volume while the "plonk" wines have been on a steady downward slide.  AOC wine production went from 15,535 hectoliters in 1994-1995 to 17,536 hectoliters in 2005-2006.

In contrast to the negative forces highlighted above, the country has experienced, and,in some cases, continue to experience, a number of "new architecture" forces.  According to Demoisser, France has seen, among others: (i) a post WWII economic transformation and the emergence of a new middle class; (ii) a flight from villages to towns; (iii) transformation of the French diet and the rise of the "chef king"; (iv) acceptance of the bourgeois model of wine drinking as "moderate, ritualized, and status-oriented" as opposed to the prior working-class model; (v) the rise of wine as a focus of consumption rather than an accompaniment to a meal; (vi) the birth of wine tourism; and (vii) a proliferation of clubs, activities and discourses devoted to wine.

These opposing forces have seen the demise of wine as a staple of the French diet and "its rise as a cultural and aesthetic object" and the culture transitioning from a perception of ubiquitous wine knowledge to a three-tiered society with (i) 38% of the population (2005 figures) self-identifying as non-wine-drinkers; (ii) a middle grouping --- which she characterizes as the "wandering drinker" -- which has limited knowledge and only drinks occasionally; and (iii) the wine lover.  A large number of activities, media, and locales have sprung up to meet the needs of the wine lover resulting in a situation where, in France, "... there have never been so many wine lovers with such a prolific knowledge of wine."

I posit that the architecture described by Demoisser as the new French reality already exists in the US.  As pointed out in my most recent post, 90% of the wine in the US is drunk by 20% of the population and we have about 44 million "wandering drinkers."  There are a wide range of wine-related activities available for the initiated in both wine- and non-wine- producing areas and the opportunities for dialogue with like-minded individuals are endless.  The ease of interaction and communication with self-professed and acclaimed experts, flying winemakers, and oenologists allows the wine lover to readily expand his/her base of knowledge and create a wider chasm between that group and the wandering drinker.

I posit that this architecture will be the dominant wine drinking architecture for the foreseeable future given the technologies available today and the ease of transit between nations.  The architecture will drive dialogue with like-minded people wherever they are and will increase the challenge of wine marketers as they strive to bring new wine drinkers aboard.

No comments:

Post a Comment