Home Wine Business Editorial Sales & Marketing Down to Zero: Ignoring neo-Prohibitionists Could Prove Dangerous to the Wine Industry

Down to Zero: Ignoring neo-Prohibitionists Could Prove Dangerous to the Wine Industry


The recently completed Lifestyle, Diet, Wine & Health congress in Toledo, Spain, brought together experts from around the world to acknowledge the threat from neo-Prohibitionists and to begin to decide on how to respond. 

By Jeff Siegel


For much of the past decade, the wine business has watched – with seemingly little interest – as health groups and national regulators took strong measures to reduce alcohol consumption around the world. Their assertion, backed up by a variety of studies, was that any drinking, even in moderation, was deadly. Those studies included a report earlier this year by the World Health Organization, as well as Irish regulators who linked drinking with cancer and a Canadian proposal to cut safe alcohol limits from two drinks per day to two per week.

This time, though, the wine business has responded. 

The recently completed Lifestyle, Diet, Wine & Health congress in Toledo, Spain, brought together experts from around the world to acknowledge the threat from neo-Prohibitionists and to begin to decide on how to respond. 

Michael Wangbickler
Michael Wangbickler

“Just like anything else, excess is bad, but [drinking alcohol] isn’t a public health hazard if consumed in moderation,” says Michael Wangbickler, president of Balzac Communications & Marketing in Napa, Calif. “In the United States, the failed experiment we call Prohibition proved that limiting people’s access to alcohol caused more problems than it solved.”

The following suggestions, taken from a variety of sources from within the wine business, offer possibilities for the wine industry to consider.

Call out the bad science

The study linking wine with smoking, which claimed one bottle was as deadly as 10 cigarettes, is the most egregious example of questionable statements, but it’s hardly alone. There is acknowledgment, even among researchers, that many of the anti-drinking studies are deeply flawed. Wrote Harvard’s Anupam B. Jena and Christopher M. Worsham: “The state of nutrition research is poor, and the problems afflict much of the research into dietary and lifestyle claims around things like coffee, wine, dark chocolate, fad diets, the amount you exercise — you name it.” Yes, this might include some studies claiming wine offers health benefits, but, as many of those interviewed for this article noted, transparency is the goal. 

Reinforce the good science

The various neo-Prohibitionist studies haven’t criticized the Mediterranean Diet, which is still recommended by many doctors. These dietary guidelines encourage less animal fat, more grains and vegetables, exercise and wine as part of a healthy lifestyle. This has a couple of advantages, say marketers. It’s easy to understand, for one, and it doesn’t involve charts, graphs and scientific jargon. Just use olive oil instead of butter, work yogurt into the diet, and drink rosé with dinner (in moderation, of course).

Offer the mainstream media another point of view

Most news stories, even those from traditional media, usually parrot the neo-Prohibitionist line. The wine and cigarette study made international headlines, but when the study was later discredited, the media barely noticed. Jim Trezise, the president of the WineAmerica trade group, suggests making the media aware of organizations such as London’s Alcohol in Moderation, a group of international physicians and scientists, and Brussels’ Wine in Moderation, which focuses on the legitimacy of alcohol research.

Take neo-Prohibitionism seriously

“It’s incredibly important that wine publications take a more responsible attitude towards moderation and health,” says Felicity Carter of The Business of Drinks podcast. “I’ve seen too many credulous articles being published that present wine as some miracle potion capable of curing or preventing everything from cancer to dementia. My fear is that one day the anti-alcohol lobby will stand in front of Congress waving a bunch of these articles and claim that the wine trade deliberately lied about the health benefits of wine.”

Sharpen wine’s marketing focus

Says Paul Tincknell of Napa’s Ticknell & Tincknell consultancy, “It’s tired, it’s cliché, it’s boring, but it is what can save wine: Wine goes with food. It is the choice for dinner, picnic, lunch, whatever. Better than beer, much better than spirits. The industry needs to think again about ‘food wines’ and create the mystique that steak is better with Cabernet and fish with Chardonnay [or whatever].” That means showing adults drinking wine with meals and demonstrating that wine is not just something to partake on special occasions.

Support transparency in labeling and ingredients

“Be more transparent,” says California marketer Tim McDonald. “Pointing out the truth is a good place to start.” That means, he says, stop fighting efforts for nutrition and ingredient labeling and embrace the idea. Wine, in terms of calories, additives, carbohydrates and sugars, can only look good in comparison to other beverages — alcohol and otherwise. How many preservatives are in a soft drink?

Position wine as the choice of moderation

Remi Cohen, Domaine Carneros
Remi Cohen, Domaine Carneros

“We need to highlight the natural and simple origins of wine and emphasize that it has been with us since the beginning of civilization,” says Remi Cohen, the CEO of Domaine Carneros. “While it presents some challenges to the industry, the upcoming labeling of nutritional information on alcohol products may actually help the wine industry. It is important for the industry to demystify wine.”

The danger is upon us, say those interviewed for this story, slowly creeping its way into conversations and public perception. As such, these suggestions are not a be-all and end-all. They’re part of the beginning salvo — and there is still a long way to go.


Jeff Siegel

Jeff Siegel is an award-winning wine writer, as well as the co-founder and former president of Drink Local Wine, the first locavore wine movement. He has taught wine, beer, spirits, and beverage management at El Centro College and the Cordon Bleu in Dallas. He has written seven books, including “The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine.”



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