Wine education in the wine country
par Gildas L'HOSTIS
Ecole Supérieure de commerce de Dijon - Mastere spécialisé Commerce Internationale vins et spiritueux 2011
In recent years, the wine industry in France has seen important changes in its pattern of consumption. In 1999 people drank about 61 litres of wine per year per capita while in 2009 wine consumption was around 46 litres (France Agrimer stats 2010). In 1980 the level of regular consumers (50.7 %) was higher than for casual consumers (30.1%). Trends have changed and in 2005, the number of casual consumers had increased (41.3 % vs. 20.7 % of regular consumers). The number of non-consumers has also increased recently, reaching 38 % in 2005. It is important to notice that at the same time the level of quality wines drunk (AOP wines, previously AOC) remained constant as the wine consumption of table wine (lower quality) decreased significantly. People drink less but better: according to France Agrimer's statistics, the level of expense per household has increased between 2005 and 2009 (122 € to 131 €).
As in many countries, there is in France willingness for people to become knowledgeable. In parallel with this thirst for knowledge people are eating out more and more. The proportion of people dining in restaurants is much higher than few years ago (source INSEE). Therefore restaurateurs have to focus more on improving levels of service quality and creating customer loyalty. Consumers drink less but want at the same time to be wine educated. In France if the waiter recommends a wine, customers will listen (Tach 2008), compared to other countries such as Australia or Brasil where people are less inclined to take notice of waiters' suggestions. One possible reason is that France has a much older food and wine culture.
In 1995 only 40% of French people knew what the acronym AOC meant (appellation d'origine Contrôlée); in 2005 about 58% gave the right answer when they were asked about the signification of this acronym (source ONIVIN). The knowledge about the AOC has therefore evolved through the last years and people are now more concerned about wine origin.
According to Marie Christine Tarby («Vin et Société» chairman), in an interview with Vitisphère (2011), French people speak about wine twice as much as football! According to a previous poll (IPSOS), 71% of the French people thought that wine made everyday life easier and more festive.
For Olivier Thienot (director of the «Ecole du Vin»), wine knowledge is a way for people to express a good education and «savoir vivre». As an example the young people segment is
now more interested in being wine educated and moreover is open minded when speaking about wine from other countries.
As a result it is important for restaurateurs to assimilate these changes; they need to be really interested in wine education in order to be able to give the right advice to their customers and also sell the appropriate wine.
Table 1. Source : «OIV. Situation of the world viticultural sector in 2007»
In her thesis «the Quest for Identities: consumption of wine in France» Marion Demossier (2005) raises important questions about the role of experts and professionals as mediators in contemporary French society. Among them, one raised the role of the experts. «Do they play the role of cultural mediators between producers and society or do the experts themselves participate in the social construction of the product?» Nowadays the population of mediators and advisors is increasingly important. Now the erudite are the specialized journalists and
sommeliers. They play an important role and have responsibility in educating people, leading them along the path of knowledge. Some of them are sometimes so influential that they can change the wine grower's destiny, bringing ambiguousness to the role experts have to play.
Sylvie Chollet and Dominique Valentin (2000) said in their thesis that one of the major problems in the field of sensory analysis comes from the necessity to train «experts» in order to describe and assess the product. Therefore that reinforces the need for professionals who are able to carry and transmit the knowledge for a topic which mainly relies on hedonism and self-experience. The main objective is to draw descriptors to assess the wine and therefore create a common semantic usable by everyone.
Therefore, experts have a great role to play in democratizing wine. Wine democratization is probably one of the more important aspects of the contemporary history of wine. To be a connoisseur is linked to social success and thirst of knowledge has never been so important and helps to make the difference between the wine lover and the drinker (most of the drinkers want to become a wine lovers). Even if wine consumption is still a way to express a social difference, however more and more people have access to wine knowledge. Wine consumption now takes place not only at home but in clubs, wine fairs, wine bars and tends to be more ostentatious. «For many observers, wine has become a cultural product and therefore the meanings behind its consumption have altered. For many others, despite these numerous changes, France remains a country symbolically defined by its wines and where everybody knows about wines» (Demoissier 2005).
Wine tasting, it is not a natural art and has been inherited, constructed according to traditions and periods. «Wine tasting standards have evolved and have been perceived through the elite talks as a product essentially linked to history» (Wolikow 2011). Wine social history is not fossilized and developed from the Roman era to our contemporary history, the wine making art being one day devolved to the clergy and later to the profane. Besides of this evolution, the taste of the wine has also continually changed through the last centuries due to a better knowledge of the wine making processes and one could consider that wine is better now than it was few centuries ago.
Wine assessment has developed through different stages. From the Middle Ages to the end of the 18th century wine tasting focused only on the colours and tactile sensations were not used to assess the wine. In the same time wine and food pairing was already an important aspect of the meal.
When the phylloxera occurred in the 19th century there were strong debates about wine taste as at this time frauds were common in the wine trade, consequently it was important to insist on the wine characteristics and not only on the robe to determine a good wine from a bad one. The wine quality concept became essential as a guarantee for the customer of the product and people were aware about the origin of the wine.
At the end of the 19th century, aromas were used to assess wine using analogies with the perfume industry (Wolikow 2011)