President Emmanuel Macron openly says he drinks two glasses of wine a day and has said that “a meal without wine is a bit sad” - a pro-wine stance which differs significantly from previous presidents who were much more cautious about the topic.
Several rarely drank at all - including Nicolas Sarkozy who preferred Coca-Cola, and Jacques Chirac who was better known for liking Corona beer.
President Macron has also said that French people should not be “hassled” about their wine consumption, citing a popular comment made by former French prime minister Georges Pompidou in response to regulations his cabinet proposed to him in 1966.
Mr Macron, 44, has often argued for the cultural importance of wine for French people, especially as the industry is one of France’s most profitable in terms of exportation and consumption.
He was crowned “personality of the year” in 2022 by the La Revue du Vin, the first time the newspaper attributed its prize to a French president. He attended the prize-giving ceremony and made an acknowledgement speech in January.
The newspaper said his “a meal without wine is a bit sad” quote contributed to “loosening the decades-old misunderstanding around wine and vineyards.”
But Mr Macron’s stance, comments and policies were overshadowed by revelations from newspaper Le Monde regarding close ties with a member of France’s powerful wine lobby.
His comments have likewise been lambasted by health professionals, who accuse him of encouraging drinking against the advice of countless studies showing the dangers of excessive wine consumption.
Mr Macron’s views come at a time where France’s wine consumption is at its lowest rate since the 1960s.
The Connexion spoke to a wine association president, a political expert and a health professional about President Macron’s open sympathy for the industry.
‘Part of Mr Macron’s identity’
“It is part of Mr Macron’s identity to think wine is part of the French art-de-vivre,” said Stéphane Le Bras, wine historian and lecturer at the Clermont-Auvergne university, adding that Mr Macron probably was not aware he thinks this way.
Mr Le Bras said Mr Macron’s argument about the cultural heritage and prevalence of wine within French history is one often used by professionals in the industry.
He said the president was part of a generation where wine was believed to not cause alcoholism on the same level as spirits.
Mr Le Bras said Mr Macron’s “a meal without wine is a bit sad” quote was reminiscent of tactics of the Comité national de propagande en faveur du vin, a French wine lobby of the 1930s, that said drinking wine meant favouring joy and cheerfulness.
Wine was touted as beneficial and until 1956 was served regularly during meals in schools to children as young as 14.
Mr Macron is suspected of close ties with the industry and wine lobbies after recent revelations from documents obtained by Le Monde raised questions on the role of Audrey Bourolleau, an agriculture adviser in his cabinet and a former member of the wine lobby Vin & Société.
“This is a clear sign of his political inclinations,” said Mr Le Bras, meaning the president had sided with the wine industry rather than health experts.
Mr Macron was also seen tasting wine and meat at the Foire internationale des importations de Chine in Shanghai in 2019 alongside Chinese president Xi Jinping, suggesting that wine was being used as part of France’s diplomatic instrument.
Wine industry in a ‘major crisis’
“I do not think Mr Macron is kinder to the wine sector than any other sector. At least, that is not the sector’s perception,” said Didier Delzescaux, president of the Comité National des Interprofessions des Vins à appellation d’origine et à indication géographique (CNIV), one of France’s wine associations grouping 23 interprofessional professionals of the industry.
Mr Delzescaux said the industry is caught in a “major crisis” that is hindering production, citing accelerating and repeated climatic catastrophes and the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine, the coronavirus pandemic and the Trump tax on importation.
The industry has also been affected by a steady decline in alcohol consumption among the French population, which has decreased from 128 litres per person per year in 1960 to 36 litres in 2018, according to data compiled by France’s national statistics body (INSEE.)
Studies from the CNIV showed more and more people were turning away from alcohol to water and other non-alcoholic drinks, leaving the association reflecting on other alternatives to increase consumption as an aperitif.
More and more French people are also trying Dry January, a challenge to give up alcohol during the whole month of January as a way of assessing and reflecting on the nature of one’s own consumption.
Mr Delzescaux agreed when suggested Mr Macron was showing less restraint and moderation to issues related to the wine industry than former presidents.
“His comments will not change the challenges the industry is facing, however,” he said.
“It is a regular tactic from the industry to shine a light on their regular hardships,” said Mr Le Bras.
Chirac drank Corona, Sarkozy Coca-Cola
President Macron’s fondness for wine is, strangely, an exception to the rule among French presidents, who have in the past expressed restraint toward alcohol or preferences for champagne.
They have, however, expanded the economic activities related to the wine industry, aware of its prevalence and importance among the population and for the country’s finances.
General Charles de Gaulle is more often associated with the champagne industry, having had both a ‘De Gaulle’ cuvée of the Drappier champagne in 1990 and a corkscrew named after him (due to its shape resembling his ears).
Both Presidents George Pompidou and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing were infrequent to moderate drinkers with preferences for Mouton-Rothschild and Chinon for the latter. President François Mitterrand liked Château Haut-Marbuzet.
Jacques Chirac was known for liking Corona beer while Nicolas Sarkozy did not drink alcohol at all and preferred Coca-Cola.
The Elysee Palace’s wine cellar grew extensively, paradoxically, under the two conservative presidents to reach an all-time high of 25,000 wine bottles under Mr Sarkozy’s term.
The wine cellar was reduced to 12,000 bottles under Francois Hollande’s term, the first president to also auction more than 1,200 bottles of wine in 2013 for €718,000 in an effort to reimburse the State’s deficit and reorganise the wine cellar.
Regulations introduced with the ‘loi Evin’
Despite the economic importance of the wine industry, the population has begun to exercise greater caution with regards to the alcohol over the years, as health professionals highlighted its potential negative effects and politicians took legal actions to limit related advertising.
Advertising for alcoholic beverages is submitted to strict restrictions under the ‘loi Evin’, a law drafted in 1991 by the then minister for social affairs Claude Evin in an effort to curb alcohol and tobacco consumption.
Companies selling alcohol and cigarettes are not allowed to advertise on television, theatres or during sports events.
Advertising is allowed in newspapers – except for children’s magazines – and on the radio at certain times of day, from 00:00 to 7:00 on Wednesdays and from 00:00 to 17:00 on every other day.
MPs approved an amendment to the ‘loi Evin’ on September 15, 2015, whereby advertising on alcohol as part of the promotion of a region or a cultural and culinary heritage could not be considered advertising, or be subject to the restrictions.
The amendment was part of the broader ‘loi Macron’, a law which aimed to ‘heal’ France from the “three diseases” of “distrust”, “complexity” and “corporatism” according to the then-minister of economics Emmanuel Macron. Critics accused the amendment of unravelling the original law.
The ‘loi Bachelot’ had already softened the original law in 2009 by allowing advertising on alcoholic beverages on the internet.
Mr Macron pledged not to tighten the ‘loi Evin’ during his term.
“This is a major impediment in public-health policies aimed at prevention,” said Dr Mickael Naassila, president of the Société française d’alcoologie and a physiology lecturer at the University of Picardie, adding that Mr Macron’s stance on wine has had negative effects on the research sector.
Dr Naassila said Mr Macron’s position was going against a growing body of studies showing the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption, citing the pivotal 2018 study from The Lancet that showed that related health outcomes could only be improved by cutting out alcohol completely.
The study contradicts what most French people have been hearing about wine consumption, including that one drink a day is good for overall health.
“Alcohol should be no more than two drinks per day. And not everyday!” reads a recent TV and radio public health message, putting the emphasis on the danger of repetition and daily consumption.
Mr Delzescaux said Mr Macron’s comments on his two drinks were in line with the industry policy to advise caution on alcohol consumption.
He feared the wine industry could be assimilated to the tobacco industry where health professionals advised to stop smoking.
“Mr Macron is making wine look good without seeing its damaging side,” said Dr Naassila, adding alcohol was one of the principal reasons behind hospital admissions in France.
Mr Naassila made reference to a video published on Mr Macron’s official TikTok account in August 2021 where he advised people to exercise their freedoms with caution when driving after having up to four drinks of wine.
“This is an invitation to binge-drink,” said Dr Naassila, adding that it was particularly harmful to younger people since it was published on a social media platform which is particularly popular among that age group.