Saying that French people love their wine is both a stereotype...and an understatement. France produces more wine annually than any other country, and it is the second-biggest consumer of wine, right behind the United States. Unsurprisingly, the French get defensive about wine, especially when health organizations start making ridiculous accusations like “Pregnant women should probably lay off the Bordeaux” or “Young people binge-drink wine.”
Last July, more than 60 of the country’s most famed vintners wrote a “furious diatribe” when the country’s health minister, Agnès Buzyn, proposed putting warning labels on each wine bottle. The two red-and-white symbols would’ve urged expectant mothers not to drink, and reminded under-18s that underage drinking is illegal—two things that you wouldn’t think would be met with “furious” opposition. But they were, because France. “Are we going to have to, minister, send to France and the whole world our wines [...] with labels covered in lugubrious and deathly signs for the image or our produce?” the winemakers asked, according to The Telegraph.
And now Didier Guillaume, the country’s minister of agriculture, is arguing that wine is different than other booze, and not what any self-respecting binge-drinker would be downing. "I don't think wine is comparable to other alcohols," he told BFMTV. "Alcohol addiction is a real problem, notably among young people with binge drinking and so on. It's a real problem but I've never seen, to my knowledge—unfortunately perhaps—a youngster leaving a nightclub drunk because they drank Cotes-du-Rhone.”
Those comments were met with the French equivalent of “WTF?” especially by those in the medical community. Psychologist Michel Reynaud, the President of France's Addiction Action Fund, tweeted that “all doctors” knew that wine caused acute alcohol poisoning, and that it happened “every day.”
And Bernard Basset, the vice president of the National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Addiction (ANPAA), used actual statistics in his Twitter rebuttal. “Contrary to the claims of the Minister of Agriculture, studies show that young people get drunk with wine (18%) and champagne (25%) according to [the French Observatory of Drugs and Addiction],” he wrote. “Wine is alcohol like any other for getting drunk.”
According to a study conducted last May by the French government, some 36 percent of men and 15 percent of women under the age of 35 had drinking habits that were considered “at risk.” (And for this study, “at risk” was described as having two or more drinks every day, or a total of 10 or more drinks every week.) And you know who saw this coming, and who blamed it on France’s ridiculously tolerant attitude toward getting shitfaced on wine? You guessed it: health minister Buzyn.
“The wine industry today claims wine is different from other types of alcohol,” she said at the time. “In terms of public health, it is exactly the same thing to drink wine, beer, vodka, whiskey, there is zero difference. French people have been told wine is the safe option, that it will bring benefits that other spirits won't. That's wrong. Scientifically, wine is alcohol like any other."