Wine, however, was not in particularly short supply in the 1780’s. The issue was a tax that was collected on wine as it was brought into the city, which had created an opportunity for enterprising publicans who set up shop just outside the Paris city gates. Affordable wine had thereby been generally available without a long journey at the end of a day’s work in the city. As one member of the legislature, Etienne Chevalier put it in 1789: “Wine is the basis of survival for the poor citizens of Paris. When bread, meat, and other foods are too expensive, he turns to wine; he nourishes and consoles himself with it.” But Paris, a walled city at the time, was growing, and as the walls were moved outward it became increasingly difficult for the “poor citizens of Paris” to maintain easy access to this important source of nutrition and comfort. So it was the customs houses at the gates of Paris that were targeted first in the revolution.
Some 300 years later, the French paradox would confirm the health benefits of regular consumption of wine with the evening meal. If there is a lesson in this historical nugget, perhaps it is this: Let them drink wine. A good baguette wouldn’t hurt either.