You can’t, as the great US songwriter Tom Waits lyrically pointed out, unring a bell. While most thinking people are, or should be, giving at least a little consideration to how radically AI might transform our lives, it is easy to overlook how fundamentally they have already changed over the last hundred years.
News from countries like Uganda that still apply social legislation inherited from their British colonial rulers offers a timely reminder that until the late 20th century, almost the only acceptable way for two adult humans to share a bed was to be of opposite sexes and sanctified by marriage.
Higher education was for the moneyed minority and, even for most of these lucky people, to earn an income, there was no alternative to finding an employer or taking over an occupation from a parent. There were very few entrepreneurs.
It was accepted as a fact of life that being female or having different ethnicity would be a lifelong handicap. And, as anyone who has watched many old movies will know, until the 1970s, two in five Americans smoked.
Things have changed. And despite the efforts of reactionaries, including US presidential candidates, none of these bells can be unrung. Few people seriously expect developed nations to tighten restrictions in same-sex relationships or to advocate lower wages for women, or a cigarette renaissance.
So what about wine? A century ago, a glass of wine was as much a daily part of most European lunch or dinner tables as the knives and forks.
No longer daily
Many wine professionals still imagine – or want to imagine - that this is still the case, and the internet is inundated with memes suggesting that a day or a meal without wine is almost unimaginable.
Even in 1980, however, according to Agrimer statistics, this was already far from the case in France. Of the 19m households surveyed at that time, nearly a tenth drank no wine and just over a quarter – 26.2% - only consumed it occasionally. Fast forward to 2015, and while the number of households had gone up to 27.8m, the proportion of abstainers had more than doubled. Most significantly, the percentage of regular wine drinkers had plummeted from nearly two thirds (64%) to just over one in five (22%).
Even in France, the percentage of regular wine drinkers had plummeted - from nearly two thirds to just over one in five.
The 2020 figures will be published this year, but the likelihood of them revealing a reversal of this trend is vanishingly small. Every time an elderly Frenchman or woman dies, the number of regular wine drinkers falls. That inconvenient demographic fact is less true in ‘newer’ wine markets, but these too are mostly flat or shrinking.
Wine, for most people in most countries, is increasingly going to be an occasional pleasure - as the increasingly popular 'sober curious' movement illustrates.
New types of packaging
And, over time, that will change the way it is packaged, marketed and sold. This is already happening, of course. In 2020, it was revealed that in 2020-21, 44% of the wine purchased in French supermarkets came in the form of Bag-in-Box.
Until now, most of the focus on BIB has been on its environmental benefits, with French consumers liking the fact that it is a cheaper way to buy wine. Far less interest has been taken in the way BiBs relieve consumers from the tyranny of having to finish a bottle once it has been opened, or use some kind of device to keep it fresh. The same, of course, applies to cans.
BiBs relieve consumers from the tyranny of having to finish a bottle once it has been opened, or use some kind of device to keep it fresh.
If I’m right in thinking that this is important, there would seem to be a lot of scope for the kind of premium quality 1.5 litre BIBs that are already growing increasingly popular in France and are making small headway in the UK.
Maybe, instead of obsessing about glass weight, more wine critics should be out there tasting the good examples that are being produced and encouraging more producers and retailers to consider following this trend.