An Overview of the French Wine Industry

France is the world’s top producer and exporter of wine in terms of value, and is internationally recognized as the leader in production of premium wines. The French produce between seven and eight billion bottles of wine per year–more than enough to supply every person on the planet with his or her own bottle! It closely rivals Italy in total volume sold, and ranks not far behind Spain in number of planted vineyard acres. The United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and Belgium are the largest importers of French wine.

The major fine wine producing regions of France include Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire, Provence, and the Rhône Valley. All have vastly different soils and climates, but generally, the wines produced in warm-weather regions of the south tend to be blends from several different types of red grapes. Northern wines are more often made from a single varietal. There are several hundred geographically-defined appellations in existence. More than 50 grape varieties can be found in great abundance in France. The most common red grapes are Merlot, Grenache, and Syrah. The most popular white grapes are Ugni blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon blanc. French grapevines have been planted all over the world and are the original source of the wine of many other nations.

The custom of drinking wine is deeply rooted in tradition, to the point of being part of the French national identity. The culture places great emphasis on the enjoyment of wine with meals, and French wine generally is designed to complement the food of the region it comes from. There is no one particular nationally-preferred style or taste of wine; instead, regional diversity is celebrated. Each adult in France on average consumes 55 liters of wine annually, up to 10 times more than the average American drinks.

The concept of terroir or goût de terroir is recognized by all French people but not as well understood by foreigners. Terroir refers to the character which a certain vineyard–with its unique soil and climate–gives to its wines. But in a broader sense, the term carries with it a connotation of essence or “sense of place.” The unique personality of each wine is felt to be a reflection not just of the geography/geology of the region, but actually of the sensibilities of the region’s inhabitants.