One of the most familiar aspects of French culture – its love of wine – might be lost as successive generations abandon the imaginative representations of wine linked to national identity, according to a study in the International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business. The findings suggest that the transmission of French wine heritage to future generations is in terminal decline.
Consumption of wine in France is on the wane. It has fallen from the equivalent of almost 7 billion 75-cl bottles in 1980 to around 4 billion in 2008; not much more than one bottle a week per adult. The downward trend seems to be continuing with recent data predicting that just 16.5% of the adult population are now regular wine consumers.
New research from the ESC Pau research centre and Toulouse 1 Capitole University suggests that there has been a shift from regular “alimentary” wine consumption at mealtimes to drinking purely for pleasure. This has led to fewer wine drinkers overall but an increase in the number of those who drink only occasionally rather than frequently; there are fewer who insist on a bottle on the table at every meal. The demise of wine’s high status in French culture and the emergence of less favourable representations of wine, related to health issues, seems to have occurred within the last two generations, according to Pascal Poutet of the Self-development Department at ESC Pau and Thierry Lorey of ESC Pau and Capitole University.
Previous research has studied the sociological, psychological and psychoanalytical aspects of wine consumption or looked at consumption from a marketing perspective but only among younger adults. Lorey and Poutet have taken the unusual step of investigating across the generations. The researchers surveyed four groups of people those over 65 years who lived through the Second World War, the “heritage” generation, those between 40 and 65 who lived through a period of growth and worldwide development, the “baby boomers” those aged 30 to 40, “Generation X”, who grew up through the French crisis of the 1990s and those under 30, who might be labelled the “internet generation”. Each successive generation represents a general increase in libertarian attitudes and irreverence towards institutions, they suggest.
Their study revealed that all generations agree on the values of conviviality, sharing and pleasure conveyed by wine, but they differ significantly in their wine drinking habits. The over-65s are daily consumers of wine, recognise the strong social and cultural heritage and enjoy sharing the wine experience with family and friends. The two middle-aged groups are much more occasional drinkers and drink more socially with friends rather than family, social status is a factor in their wine consumption. For the under-30s, wine consumption is very much the exception rather than the rule, they rarely cite the pleasurable and social aspects of wine drinking.
“There is a dual gap between the three generations, older, middle-aged, younger,” the researchers say, “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).” Similarly, there is an evolution across the generations of cultural reflections on wine. The older generation recognises the symbolism, tied in to French culture, history and religion. The historical factors are less of a concern for the middle-aged although they recognise the cultural and gastronomic references. For the younger generation history, religion and many of the cultural reference points are of little concern, although they do maintain great pride in wine nevertheless.
“The generational analysis of the representations of wine in France does seem to be appropriate to explain the deep changes that wine has undergone in the last 60 years,” the researchers explain. “It is precisely the progressive loss of the identity, sacred and imaginary representations of wine (nation, region, lesser importance of the transmission of the culture of wine by the father within the family, etc.) over three generations that explains France’s global consumption attitudes, and especially the steep decline in the volumes of wine consumed.”
The team suggests that a better understanding of how young adults, their parents and their grandparents might explain the links between representations of wine and its consumption and the future status of wine in France and around the world.