France needs actual champagne socialism

(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

Aux armes, citoyens! With restaurants and nightclubs closed earlier in the year and large parties, wedding receptions, and luxury stadium boxes still on hold due to lockdown measures in many parts of the world, global champagne sales have had a terrible year. According to the Associated Press, sales have declined by more than 100 million bottles.

This year’s drop in sales follows several years of bad grape harvests in France — the result of droughts, excessive heat, and early frosts — and President Trump’s inexplicable imposition of tariffs on French wine imports to the United States. The situation is so grim that the French government agreed months ago to waive payroll taxes for winemakers and has even paid producers in Alsace and other regions to distill excess stock into ethanol for hand sanitizer.

This is not going to happen in Champagne. As Anselme Selosse of Champagne Jacques Selosse has put it, it would be "an insult to nature" if the region's famous grapes were converted into rubbing alcohol. Some in the industry have suggested that champagne needs to be rebranded as something that customers do not necessarily associate with important occasions or large group settings. Others, including Selosse, have even suggested that production in the region could shift toward still white or even red wines.

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There is a much better and far more obvious solution to this problem, though: literal champagne socialism. The French government should purchase a bottle of champagne for each of France’s 28 million households. Bar-napkin math suggests that this would cost just under a billion euros, a trifling figure given the wine's importance as a national symbol. After Bonaparte's defeat at Waterloo, the famous Madame Clicquot grumbled about the occupying forces who were helping themselves to her wares: "Today they drink. Tomorrow they will pay."

Tomorrow no one should pay.

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Matthew Walther

Matthew Walther is a national correspondent at The Week. His work has also appeared in First Things, The Spectator of London, The Catholic Herald, National Review, and other publications. He is currently writing a biography of the Rev. Montague Summers. He is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow.