Say “wine” and “Paris” side-by-side, and the association might conjure images of bistros or sidewalk cafés with une demi bouteille of a crisp white or chilled red shared over lunch. Low-alcohol or no-alcohol beverage options haven’t exactly fitted into the picture, traditionally, but that could be changing. Low- and no-alcohol [or NA] options are, contrary to history and romantic imaginings, a recent trend in France’s capital city.
What’s behind such a shift?
“I see Parisians, especially the younger ones, as being far more experimental and open to new ideas and to change than their parents,” said Martha Wright, a sobriety coach at Clear Power Coaching who also co-founded Scott Paul Wines in Oregon in 1999 and Caveau Selections wine importing company in 2006. Wright has spent six of the last twelve months in Paris, where her daughter currently lives, and has paid keen attention to the developments and trends in the “low and no” world there.
“I think the small but growing interest in NA beverages is a like a cocktail recipe,” Wright said, comprised of “one part continuation of the overall wellness movement, one part desire to be more inclusive, one part growing recognition of the link between alcohol consumption and its impact on anxiety (the pandemic put a finer point on this) and one part excitement about breaking some rigid, outdated ideas about what is acceptable to eat and drink and when.”
What follows are excerpts from my interview with Wright, along with her recommendations of favorite AF [alcohol free] venues around Paris.
To be honest, I’m not sure that Paris jumps to mind as a hot bed for low- and no-alcohol wine options. Why has it caught on there now?
MW: Well [laughing], I would not necessarily have expected Parisians to fall so hard for “le brunch,” or “les donuts,” but they have! Really, another question is, why did it take this long, in France or anywhere?
Moderation is seen as a top virtue in France, public intoxication is really frowned upon and the legal BAC [blood alcohol concentration] limit for driving is much lower than the US. The French have contributed so much to cuisine and the art of the table. I’m excited to see what they can do with the under-explored area of the non-alcoholic food pairing!
Paris *does* jump to mind as a city that has embraced natural wine, which also breaks away from traditional or historical wine options. Is there a link between natural wine and AF, would you say?
MW: Absolutely. Starting twenty years ago, the French embraced natural wines and many of those championing them were younger people who were pushing for more transparency, advocating for more environmental practices and questioning status quo about everything, from which grapes could be planted where and what a wine label could look like.
I think it’s a similar mindset that has younger Parisians asking, why should my only non-alcoholic option be a Citronnade or a “Coca?”
And what is possible if a creative force like Margot Lecarpentier, an exciting and “rule-breaking” mixologist/bar owner were to infuse a non-alcoholic vermouth with coffee and add fig leaf, verjus and orange blossom water, as she does in a booze-less cocktail I sampled over brunch a year ago at her eatery and bar, Capitale in Belleville. I’m still thinking about it.
Please provide a little context for your perspective on this topic. Why do you see Paris with AF lenses? And how much time have you spent getting the lay of the land there?
My husband and I have been wine producers/importers for twenty-three years specializing in Burgundy and Champagne, so we’ve spent a lot of time over the years in France visiting the small-family producers whose wines we import. Once our daughter left home and moved to Paris, we realized we could travel more so those stays have gotten longer and we’ve spent six out of the last 12 months in Paris.
Back in 2017, we were spending three months in Burgundy. My husband could easily skip a night of drinking, but I noticed how cranky I became if there wasn’t a bottle of wine in the house. A little more than a year after that, I became certain that I wanted to rewind my wine habit. That was scary to admit for someone in the industry, but I did it. I felt so much better as a result [that] I jumped at the chance to get certified as a sobriety/mindful drinking coach, so that I could help other people who realized alcohol was playing a bigger role in their lives than they wanted.
How has your personal and professional journey led you to this point?
Before working in the wine business, I worked with Food Network chefs. I [also] grew up in New Orleans. Food, beverage-culture, hospitality and flavor are all passions. For me, eliminating alcohol was an opportunity to double-down on these pleasures, rather than retreat from them. I’m also by nature a reporter, and an Enneagram 7 who loves new things and to be a resource. So, it became my fun mission to explore, discover and study the landscape and cultural differences around the AF movement both in the US and in Paris.
Please see the companion piece to this post for Wright’s AF recommendations around Paris.