French wine organisations reject Dry January

After French wine groups heard a rumour that the French Minister for Health intended to introduce Dry January to France, they were swift to react. Sophie Kevany reports.

Dry January is a British initiative
Dry January is a British initiative

France’s wine sector is once again battling alcohol reduction suggestions from the country’s health ministry. This time, eight French wine bodies have aligned to protest against the idea of a nationally backed ‘dry January’. 
Although no formal proposal has been put forward by Health Minister, Dr Agnès Buzyn, the organisations have already sent a letter of protest to French Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe. The organisations have also made their frustrations known to President Emmanuel Macron.
One of the eight organisations signing the letter to the Prime Minister is the National Confederation of Wine and Eaux de Vie (CNAOC). 
Speaking Friday to Meininger's, CNAOC director, Eric Tesson said the suggestion was an absurd “cut and paste idea” imported from the UK without proper consideration for France’s culture, society and economy. “Abstinence is not moderation. We are not Protestants after all. It is a frontal attack. On French culture, on the wine sector and on our economic well-being,” Tesson said. 

Tesson explained the organisations had heard of the Minister’s proposals via their “networks” and they hoped to nip it in the bud. Wine website Vitisphere quoted a part of the letter of protest to the Prime Minster as saying that the idea of a dry January "calls into question the public health policy promoted until now by the French authorities, by substituting the notion of abstinence for that of moderation.” Tesson said the letter had been sent within the last two weeks. 

“The WHO suggests 10 glasses of wine a week. That is moderate consumption. You cannot suggest this deep a shift to a society without wine. Wine goes with food, family and it is about sharing a moment of gastronomy, culture and company,” he continued.  

Speaking from his vineyard in Burgundy, director of Domaine Masse in the Côte Chalonnaise – where Mercurey, Montagny, Macon are grown – grower, Fabrice Masse, voiced similar concerns. “It does not seem very scientific. Why one month? Why not six months or one day?” he asked. “We practice moderation every day. And we do that by ourselves, it is not imposed on us.”
He wondered too if, after one month’s not drinking, whether there could be a risk people overcompensate. “Do they go crazy on February 1st? It really does not sound like a very good idea.”

Already this year the sector has battled suggestions from Buzyn that the anti-drinking during pregnancy pictogram on wine bottles be enlarged, and, that Champagne be banned from VIP boxes at football stadiums. 

Buzyn, a haematologist, has also previously upset the sector by describing wine as ‘‘an alcohol like any other.” She points out too that alcohol-related disease is the second biggest cause of death in France after smoking, killing just over 40,000 people a year. 
Other signatories to the letter of protest include the National Union of Wines of Appellation and Geographical Origin (CNIV), The Cooperative Winemakers of France (VCF), the Independent Winemakers of France (VIF) and advocacy group, Wine and Society (Vin & Société). 

Dry January is a public health campaign that began in the UK in 2013, run by the charity Alcohol Change UK. Participants agree to give up alcohol for one month.

Sophie Kevany

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