The French are panicking. Their casual attitude toward marketing and product practicality has finally caught up with them. To bring production costs and, eventually, consumer retail prices down, the French government has approved a bill allowing vintners to flavor their wines with wood chips. This would replace the traditional usage of barrels to flavor and store wine.
Of course, all this means is that a market will eventually open up for artisanal wines, just as it has with artisanal cheeses and breads. The vineyards that go the cheaper route now will eventually bottom out, while those that remain true to tradition will have a niche market that will sustain them. The French have always valued quality over quantity in most aspects of their lives. (The only exception I can readily think of is that French kids can't get enough of American rap, hip-hop and R&B. Nothing against our home-grown musical genres, but a lot of the crap that we export is just despicable...try to imagine a 10-year-old French kid singing along with 'My Humps' or 'Hollaback Girl' - phonetically. 'Nuff said.)
My opinion is, French wine will always be French wine, and there is nothing that can replace it. I don't like looking at a restaurant menu and seeing "Sonoma" and "Napa" next to every bottle, but Americans have always been known to sacrifice quality for price. Not that California wines are inferior; they're just not French. (Yes, I'm a snob, but I promise I'm a friendly one.)
Photo: Chenin blanc, the grape used to make Vouvray, my favorite wine.