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Wine Industry Needs A Loud Clear Message To Counter Neo-Prohibitionist Ascent

Scott Edwards of Aveniu Brands sent Wine Industry Insight this email after reading Rob McMillan’s blog post,‘Neo-Prohibitionists are Alive and Well’

Significantly, Rob’s a top wine banker and Scott’s a top wine sales dude. Looks like the smarter folks on top are starting to recognize that the NeoDrys are ascending and the Rip Van Wineindustry might want to wake up.

I’ve been subscribing to your newsletter for a several years. While not always agreeing with everything you write, I find myself reading almost everything you write!

Periodically you feature a topic that is larger and more important than the article itself. Today’s ‘neo-prohibitionist’ article is one. The article ends by reading “But one thing is clear: Neo-prohibitionism may be less visible, yet the underlying agglomeration of strange bedfellows isn’t yet dead”. While perhaps this is true as not overtly visible to the general population, the messaging is clear.

Not unlike most of our media and news, the ‘message’ is driven by organizations or special interests intending to paint a picture and influence the audience. The ‘neo’ messaging in fact is VERY visible. Specifically, much of the ‘anti-alc’ messaging is driven by the NIH, NTB, the RWJ Foundation and yes, MADD. I’m sure you are aware MADD’s platform has dramatically evolved over the years from a much needed ‘stop drunk driving’ platform to a thinly veiled anti-alcohol prohibition goal. Collectively these groups are well funded and very organized.

I’ve been in the wine business for 25+ years during which time the industry has witnessed quite an evolution and several swings in public opinion regarding alcohol with obvious variations in each category – wine, beer and spirits (remember the Seagram’s equivalency ads!). Historically each category has been generally viewed independently by the public.

I believe we are now well into a dangerously intolerant period for ALL alcohol beverages. The public PR campaign is being won in the trenches and in the media by these anti-alcohol organizations who again, are much better funded and certainly better organized than any one (or collection of) organizations representing the alcohol beverage industries.

Alcohol related topics are a sensitive matter for any legislator or organization to be perceived as pro-alcohol due to the risks associated with abuse and issues caused by irresponsible or excessive drinking. That said, the adult beverage industry needs the visible support of like-minded media to help communicate favorable and fact-based appropriate messages…(critical topics range from drinking and driving enforcement, responsible consumption, health benefits, appropriate BAC levels, taxation and so on).

I was a member of ABI until about 5 years ago (changed jobs). ABI may well be the only, or at least the most visible, non-commercial organization representing a counter and broader view to the neo movement. The Wine Institute historically has done a great job publicizing the benefits of wine and moderate consumption. DISCUS has finally embraced responsible consumption as a message as has the Beer Institute. However, each of these group’s goals and activities are independently driven by their powerful members.

The result is the public messaging for adult beverages is not consistent allowing the neo-prohibition messaging to win the PR campaign. I think our industry would be well served – and deserving – if the media in general could find a way to become more pro-active presenting the ‘facts’ supporting moderate and responsible consumption of alcohol.

I know this is not a new topic for our friends in the press, but one that perhaps can use another kick-in-the-pants to reignite awareness. I might even recommend contacting ABI and DISCUS for informational insights with the idea of energizing an assertive and intentional campaign to help push the pendulum back to the middle. Both organizations have accumulated quite a bit of data with insights worth listening to. Collectively, the adult beverage industries and the media should be unified and take the debate to the public.

A clear message with visible outcomes. Otherwise lower BAC’s, ignition locks, higher taxes, increased liability – and worse, increased negative public opinion will likely be the new normal.

Thank you for your journalism and pro-active support for the long-term enjoyment of wine, adult beverages in general and the right to enjoy them responsibly…in restaurants, our homes and the many other suitable social locations.

Note – this is the first time I’ve responded to any article. This is a sensitive and critical topic for the industry and it’s members to understand and embrace. Thanks for reading what I wrote!

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