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Say It Ain't So, Bordeaux


A majority of French people have told a survey that they never drink wine.

The survey conducted this spring showed that 50.7% of respondents said they never drink wine. In a similar survey in 1980, 38.7% of the respondents said that they never drink wine, and in 1985 that percentage climbed to 45.1.

The study also showed that the number of people who drink wine every day also dropped sharply, from 32.5% in 1980 to 18.5% this year.

The nationwide survey of 4,000 people was conducted in March and April by the National Interprofessional Office of Wine, which represents various associations of wine makers and sellers. Participants were asked about the drinking habits of all adults in their household. The responses reflected the practices of 12,400 people, the organization said. No margin of statistical error was given.

Wine consumption varies sharply by sex, according to the survey. It said 10.9% of the women and 28.1% of the men identified themselves as daily wine drinkers.

A proposal to permit the 500-milliliter wine bottle--a half liter--in interstate commerce appears headed for approval. At least that's what the man who proposed the idea to the federal government thinks.

George Vierra, president of Merlion Winery in Napa, says he's hopeful the government, which sets standards for the size of bottles that may be shipped across state lines, would approve the 500-milliliter bottle before next spring and possibly by later this year.

"People in the department have told me they see nothing wrong with this proposal," Vierra says. "They seem to feel that the 500-milliliter bottle provides a size that encourages moderation in consuming wine."

Regulations of the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) currently permit a wide number of bottle sizes, but in the smaller sizes, only 187 milliliters, 375 milliliters and 750 milliliters are permitted.

The proposal to certify the 500-milliliter bottle was submitted 18 months ago by Vierra. He said the 500-milliliter-size would appeal to couples who may feel an entire 750-milliliter bottle of wine with dinner is too much to consume. (The 750-milliliter bottle contains a little more than 25 ounces; the 500-milliliter bottle has 17 ounces.)

BATF's public comment period on the proposal concluded June 4. A spokesman for BATF said the department received 286 letters of comment, only four of them opposed to the proposal.

Vierra said his Merlion winery as well as Jordan and Buena Vista in Sonoma County, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in the Napa Valley and Kathryn Kennedy in Saratoga, among others, have expressed great interest in using the 500-milliliter bottle. And Vierra said he has already contacted suppliers and has ordered bottles in anticipation of the approval.

Dehlinger Winery in Sonoma County test-marketed wine in a 500-milliliter bottle in California only in 1986 and 1987 and found wide acceptance.

Wineries say they could take wine that today sells for $15 in a 750-milliliter bottle and re-package it into a 500-milliliter bottle, which would retail for $10.

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