Healthy Wine

Wednesday, 14 November, 2012
Neil Pendock
Neil Pendock argues that blind is the healthiest way to drink wine.  Or is it? 
Last month’s best riposte to a bolshy blogger came from Italian Michelin starred chef Andrea Brambilla who told Samantha Wood of to ‘wear first a condom on your tongue in order [to] contain the orgasm of your ignorance’ after she blogged about a meal for two at a Dubai restaurant that set them back R2800.  The ability and immediacy for chefs and winemakers to respond digitally to criticism is certainly one healthy spinoff of the internet revolution.

Chefs recommending condoms is a bit like madams in brothels handing out free prophylactics.  The great and the good of the mondoboozo are also currently on a condom campaign, taking a collective pledge in Washington last month on Global Actions: Initiatives to Reduce Harmful Drinking at an international conference hosted by the International Center for Alcohol Policy (ICAP).

Signatories to the declaration read like a who’s-who of booze: Carlos Brito from Anheuser-Busch, Ed Shirley from Bacardi, Matt Shattock from Jim Beam, Akiyoshi Koji from the Brewers Association of Japan, Paul Varga from Brown-Forman, Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen from Carlsberg, Paul Walsh from Diageo, Jean-Francois van Boxmeer from Heineken, Yasunori Aiba from Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association, Peter Swinburn from Molson Coors, Pierre Pringuet from Pernod Ricard, Graham Mackay from SABMiller and Ashok Capoor from UB Group.

So where are the winos in a list dominated by brewers and distillers?  Or is this a subtle posture taken by the industry to associate harmful drinking with beer and spirits while wine positions itself on some kind of moral high ground, above the fray.

In SA, one of the highest profile campaigns against harmful drinking is the Responsible Drinking Media Awards funded by Brandhouse, the local incarnation of Diageo, whose Johnnie Walker range of whiskies dominates a category that overtook brandy sales a couple of years ago.

The ICAP five year plan features campaigns to:
  1. Reduce underage drinking, via enforcement of current laws and encouraging governments to introduce and enforce minimum purchase ages.
  2. Continuing to strengthen and expand marketing codes of practice that are rooted in a resolve not to engage in marketing that could encourage excessive and irresponsible consumption, with a particular focus on digital marketing.
  3. Making responsible product innovations and developing easily understood symbols or equivalent words to discourage drinking and driving and consumption by pregnant women and underage youth.
  4. Reducing drinking and driving by collaborating with governments and non-governmental organizations to educate and enforce existing laws.
  5. Enlisting the support of retailers to reduce harmful drinking and create ‘guiding principles of responsible beverage alcohol retailing.’
So how does ICAP plan to achieve these objectives?  In the UK, binge drinking is the Big Problem, with a prohibition proposed on supermarkets discounting alcohol by outlawing BOGOFS (buy one, get one free) and Three for a Tenner campaigns.  More bad news for SA producers who are overweight in these price categories.

Back in SA, papsakke had legislative crosshairs trained on them a decade ago, although the present focus of some supermarket chains to broaden their bag-in-box offering to cover one, two, three and five litre bladders, treads a fine line between convenience and discounted over-consumption.  In Sweden, where SA bags dominate wine sales, larger volumes per serving have seen a dramatic rise in homemaker alcoholism to such an extent that the Swedish parliament is seeking to raise taxes on bag-in-boxes.  

Restrictions on adverts for alcohol in SA is surely only a question of when and to what extent, not if.  But things could get worse as the Department of Health seeks a convenient whipping boy to divert attention from its failure to deliver.  Bacchus will do.

While Australia legislates to retail cigarettes in unbranded olive green packets, building on the success of gruesome health warnings on packs in reducing demand, unbranded wine would totally transform the industry.  It would be the ultimate victory for blind-tasting advocates, removing marketing totally from the Bacchanalian equation and forcing consumers to rely on their senses to appreciate and enjoy the product.

The cozy mafia of label designers and printers would be exploded and prices should fall substantially if wine was only available in olive green bottles.  But then what a price to pay to control the demon drink.  

Blind is the healthiest way to drink!
Blind is the healthiest way to drink!

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