NUITS-SAINT-GEORGES, France: Sampling recent vintages in a 17th-century cellar here in the heart of Burgundy, Pascale Chicotot has no complaints about the weather or the wine critics. Both have been kind to her family's vineyards of late.
Just don't get her started on the French government.
"They treat us as if we were making a dangerous product," said Chicotot, who owns a small winery with her husband, Georges. "We are not terrorists. Wine is not a dangerous product. Wine is a noble thing."
The Chicotots are not alone. Winemakers are complaining that the government, egged on by anti-alcoholism campaigners, wants to make it harder to sell and drink wine in France, even as demand for the country's finest wines soars elsewhere. After having banned smoking in public places, they add, killjoys are taking aim at another pleasure, one that is even more emblematic of French joie de vivre.
"Why this national masochism?" asks Denis Saverot, editor of the leading French wine magazine, "La Revue du Vin de France," in a new book, "In Vino Satanas." "Has wine become politically incorrect?"
In an effort to crack down on binge drinking among French teenagers, the government last week proposed raising the legal age for buying alcohol to 18 from 16. It also wants to ban sales of alcohol at highway filling stations and to ban all-you-can-drink "open bar" evenings at French high schools.
Binge drinking in France? Don't French children grow up sipping wine alongside their parents, learning the virtues of moderation?
France's laissez-faire approach has been tested by what the Health Ministry says is a 50 percent increase, over the last four years, in hospitalizations of children under 15 for drunkenness.
"Binge drinking is not just an Anglo-Saxon problem anymore," said Alain Rigaud, president of the ANPAA, an anti-alcoholism group.
But wine industry groups say the proposed measures would do little to solve the problem and would further undermine an industry that is already struggling. French teenagers consider wine their parents' drink, so when they want to get drunk they often turn to hard liquor or beer.
While consumption of beer and hard liquor in France has risen slightly in recent years, wine drinking has fallen to an average of 56 liters a year per person from 100 liters in 1960, according to the national statistics bureau. In total wine consumption, France is about to be surpassed by the United States, according to a study conducted for Vinexpo, a wine fair in Bordeaux, though France remains ahead on a per capita level.
French wine production has fallen, too, and it would decline further under European Union plans to scale back billions of euros worth of subsidies. Adding to winemakers' fears that they have few friends in government, President Nicolas Sarkozy is a teetotaler.
In addition to the measures proposed by the Health Ministry, groups like the ANPAA have been pushing for a ban on Internet advertising of alcoholic drinks.
France already has some of the world's toughest restrictions on the marketing of alcohol; ads are banned entirely on television and print ads are not allowed to show people drinking wine, beer or liquor.
Those rules were written in 1991, before the Internet was a mainstream medium. Marketers of alcoholic drinks who have used the Web in France have been operating in a legal limbo, and some have fallen afoul of the courts.
Under a draft of proposed legislation that was leaked during the summer, winemakers might even have had to shut down online wine retailers or informational sites.
Roselyne Bachelot, the health minister, backed away from the toughest restrictions on Internet promotions This week. In an interview in Le Figaro, Bachelot said she favored allowing Web ads for drinks containing alcohol, but not on sites aimed at children or devoted to sports.
Many people in the wine industry breathed a sigh of relief, including Angélique de Lencquesaing, a founder and associate of iDealwine, an online wine auction site. Still, she said she was worried that the idea of a ban might be revived when Parliament debates the issue in coming months.
"We are going to keep on explaining that our aim is not to sell wine to people in order for them to get drunk as fast as possible," de Lencquesaing said.
To try to get across their message, winemakers plan to gather Thursday in regional wine capitals like Bordeaux, Épernay in Champagne and Angers in the Loire Valley for protests against the government's anti-binge-drinking proposals.
"We are very angry," said Marie-Christine Tarby, president of Vin & Société, a lobbying group for the wine industry, which employs about 250,000 people in France and accounts for about 17 percent of agricultural output. "It's such a big part of the economy, and yet we always have to fight."
Tarby said the proposal to end open-bar nights at high schools, which provide unlimited drinks with a single ticket, was written so broadly that it might also outlaw wine tastings, as well as the practice of including a glass of wine in restaurants' lunch specials.
Perhaps the biggest societal change could come from the change in the drinking age. Under current rules, 16- and 17-year-olds are allowed to buy alcohol of any kind in retail stores and they are allowed to order beer or wine, but nothing stronger, in bars and restaurants.
While the rules are displayed in French bistros and bars, they are rarely enforced. Rigaud, at the ANPAA, blames the complexity of the system. By streamlining the drinking age, he said, the government would make it easier to enforce the rules. Also, the fines against vendors who violated the law would be doubled.
Could the sight of waiters asking customers for proof of age - a feature of watering holes in the United States- soon become commonplace in Parisian brasseries?
"French people are used to showing a piece of identification when they write a check," Rigaud said. "There is no reason why they couldn't do it when buying a drink."
6 months ago