A Parisian boutique is embarking on the trend of non-alcoholic wines. Will the French drink it? : NPR

Augustin Laborde, owner of Le Paon Qui Boit, in his shop in Paris on August 26.

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Augustin Laborde, owner of Le Paon Qui Boit, in his shop in Paris on August 26.

Matthew Avignone for NPR

PARIS — Augustin Laborde stopped drinking at the start of the pandemic two years ago. But When things finally opened up, he says meeting friends in bars quickly became a frustrating experience.

“My only options were basically sugary sodas or fruit juices,” he says.

So Laborde, a lawyer with a passion for side projects, started researching the internet.

It turns out there was a whole range of soft drinks on the market; they just weren’t on the menus.

Then a light bulb went on.

In April, Laborde opened Le Paon Qui Boit, i.e. The Drinking Peacock, which bills itself as the first non-alcoholic wine and spirits store in Paris. The shop offers over 300 bottles of low and zero proof beers, wines, gins and whiskeys.

A customer takes a soft drink at Paon Qui Boit in Paris on August 26.

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A customer takes a soft drink at Paon Qui Boit in Paris on August 26.

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“I really appreciate the inclusiveness element of these products,” says Laborde. “Virtually anyone can drink it – we’re not separated by drinkers and non-drinkers.”

On a recent day, Laborde offered a tasting of a range of products in particular: wine.

“People are surprised when they see the higher prices,” says Laborde, which can be around 10 to 15 euros a bottle, compared to 4 to 8 euros for a bottle with alcohol in Paris.

Everything is linked to the alcohol-free winemaking process, which requires an additional step. After going through the traditional fermentation process, Laborde explains that the alcohol in wine is evaporated using a special filtration process.

Augustin Laborde pouring a glass of non-alcoholic wine at Paon Qui Boit in Paris on August 26.

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Augustin Laborde pouring a glass of non-alcoholic wine at Paon Qui Boit in Paris on August 26.

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He also expects the taste to become more refined, as techniques improve and the zero-proof market grows.

“It’s definitely not a fad,” says Dan Mettyear, who works with consultancy group IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. According to Mettyear, non-alcoholic wine consumption in the global market has increased by 24% in the last year alone.

“It all ties into the kind of big wellness trends we’ve seen around the world,” he says.

There are even vineyards entirely dedicated to the production of non-alcoholic wine. One of them is The Little Bereta small French brand based in Béziers, in the Occitanie region of southern France, which produces low-sugar, non-fermented white, red and rosé wines and sparkling wines.

But Mettyear says it probably wouldn’t be as shocking if growth was slower in France than in the United States and much of Europe.

“Particularly in traditional wine markets, it’s a little harder to sell,” he says. “Many people already have well-established ideas about what wine is and how it tastes.”

Customers looking for a drink at Paon Qui Boit in Paris on August 26.

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Customers looking for a drink at Paon Qui Boit in Paris on August 26.

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People love the staff at Baron Rouge, a wine bar in Paris’ 11th arrondissement that’s about as traditional as it gets.

Opened in 1979, this small establishment is famous for serving wine from colossal wooden barrels.

Sommelier Olivier Collin is doing his annual barrel wash when NPR asks if he’s heard of the rising trend.

He shakes his head in disapproval.

“I don’t understand why you would want to try the wine without the alcohol!” he says.

“It’s the same with vegan meat. I’m a vegetarian but I don’t understand why we have to eat something equal to meat or wine or beer! What’s wrong with it? fruit juices ?”

But with a little persuasion, he accepts a tasting of bottles purchased from Laborde’s boutique – including a zero-proof sauvignon blanc and champagne.

Collin and his staff curiously sniff the sauvignon.

“It smells like cat pee…which means it smells like authentic sauvignon,” Collin laughs.

He takes a first sip.

“It’s good!” he said, surprised.

On the taste notes, Collin tastes a mix of apple, pear and onion.

“It’s fruity and refreshing,” he says.

But then Collin goes for a second sip – and isn’t as impressed.

“Too sweet…and definitely doesn’t taste like wine,” he says.

A wine’s flavor can change the more it breathes after opening the bottle, but Collin says he was a little shocked at how often this sauvignon’s taste changed. Based on the tasting – and Collin’s general antipathy – it’s unlikely you’ll see non-alcoholic wine at Baron Rouge anytime soon.

Wines at 0.0% at Le Paon Qui Boit in Paris on August 26.

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Wines at 0.0% at Le Paon Qui Boit in Paris on August 26.

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But curious taste testers at an outdoor event hosted by Le Paon Qui Boit disagree with Collin’s take.

Charles Vaubin says he tried to cut down on his alcohol consumption while his wife was pregnant.

“In France, [wine] relates to culture. … It’s gastronomy and it’s interesting to add this aspect in an alcohol-free product.”

In other words, he says, wine traditionalists should realize that they all have the same goal: to prove that France produces some of the best wines in the world, with or without alcohol.

Le Paon Qui Boit in Paris on August 26th.

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Le Paon Qui Boit in Paris on August 26th.

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