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Marin Institute issues another lie, this one even more ridiculous than usual


Why anyone would take seriously anything the Marin Institute says about wine is beyond me, especially when they pretend to be friends of the small wineries they’ve tried for years to destroy.

We are talking major chutzpah here when this neoprophibitionist group, which has tried to stifle if not strangle the wine industry, comes out crying crocodile tears for family winemakers whom they say they’re trying to protect from the “global alcohol giants” they accuse of driving “the Family Winery” out of business. They issued a press release the other day just before picketing the Wine Institute, which they said should be renamed “the ‘Big Alcohol Institute’.” (Incidentally, no one came to their little demonstration except for a clutch of cold MI members who shivered for about 15 minutes, then called it a day. Evidently, Marin Institute’s call for a big protest, issued on their PR Newswire press release, was a complete failure.)

Marin Institute rally photo

Cold, lonely Marin Institute members picketing on Market Street

Far from being concerned about little wineries, this is the organization whose web site says its “vision” is “communities free of the alcohol industry’s negative influence and an alcohol industry that does not harm the public’s health.” It has tried (unsuccessfully) to ban wine and other alcoholic beverage advertising, even on the Super Bowl telecast, to raise excise taxes on alcohol (also unsuccessfully), and — most spectacularly unsuccessfully — to cause laws to be passed prohibiting families from serving their children wine within their own homes for religious, cultural or simple celebratory reasons, as if millennia of giving kids a teaspoon of wine in a glass of water has harmed Italians, French, Portuguese, Jews, Greeks, Germans and others whose roots in wine go back to Biblical times.

And this is the group that now has the gall to claim “Big Alcohol…exploits California wine imagery” by fostering “the industry-spun myth of family-grown wine from Napa and Sonoma” while in reality being dominated by “Diageo, Constellation Brands, and Brown-Forman” who “call the shots” while the little wineries, ostensibly their pawns, roll over to be plundered and ravaged.

Let’s get the facts straight. Most California wineries are small and family-owned. At the Wine Institute, each winery gets precisely one vote, regardless of size or affiliation. According to Wine Institute, of 3,000 wineries in California, half produce 5,000 cases or less. This hardly suggests an inordinate dominance by corporate entities, much less a malicious plot by them to rule the little guys. In response to Marin Institute’s charges, Wine Institute issued a statement that said, in part: “Marin Institute’s attempt to portray Wine Institute and its 900+ winery members, the overwhelming majority of which are small, family-owned businesses, as serving interests other than those of California wine is incorrect…Wine Institute and its members support the responsible consumption of wine in moderation in keeping with the advice of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The vast majority of wine consumers enjoy wine responsibly with meals and should not be penalized for the societal problem of alcohol abuse.”

Are there problems of little wineries competing against big ones? Certainly, especially on the distribution side. But no one should believe for a second that Marin Institute gives a damn about little wineries or the families who run them. Marin Institute’s agenda is the same as it always was: to cripple the industry the way Prohibition did.

  1. Right on, Steve. I shared similar thoughts yesterday.

  2. Cheers to you Steve! Thanks for shinning the light on the Marin Institute. Always enjoy reading your blog, even and perhaps especially when you say something I do not agree with.

  3. Steve – Good info to know. Your blog is great, always enjoyable and thought provoking.

    Mike Bradbury

  4. From the report-

    “Wine producers’ success in gaining authorization to ship their product directly to consumers sets a precedent for beer and distilled spirits producers to circumvent the three-tier system as well.”

    Thank you Marin Institute for reminding me how lucky we small wineries are for being able to “circumvent” the three tiers. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in business at all. It makes be feel for the craft brewers and distillers out there.

    The only thing in this prohibitionist paper that does contain a thread of truth is the blurb of deceptive marketing.

    I tend to find it crosses a line when the big companies buy up little wineries and then pretend everything stayed the same. Like the old owner is still there stressing out over the quality of the wines. Meanwhile production of that family brand had since increased ten fold and been lumped into the big winery’s production where costs are greatly lowered via economy of scale.

    The true small family winery really does rely on its story to survive. Its the personal dedication and bond with the product that makes us stand out. I guess thats why that one thing resonated with me. That being said it is clear that the MI isn’t a friend to wineries of any size.

  5. Ted, as someone who’s watched big companies buy little wineries for a long time, I can tell you it’s not as simple as you portray it. Sometimes quality goes down. Surprisingly often it stays at a high level (provided it was at a high level to begin with). For example, I continue to be impressed with Gary Farrell brand. The directors of these large companies aren’t fools. They know (or should know) that they would be shooting themselves in the foot if they bought a respected winery and then pushed quality down. So in some of these cases I think it’s good when a small winery that can’t make it on its own sells to a big winery. The original owner frequently gets to keep his job, and the new parent company can inject cash into the operation.

  6. Great writing Steve.

  7. Somewhere in Hell, Joseph Goebbels is no doubt smiling at the antics of the Marin Institute.

    Big Lie, indeed.

  8. Steve-

    Good points. There are many scenarios, quality could go up, down or sideways. Don’t assume that the directors of these large companies aren’t fools. Remember Inglenook? (Love the term “Inglenooking” by the way)

  9. Steve – thanks for taking this on. Do we have any idea who is behind the Marin Institute? Their funding information page ( is as clear as mud, making me wonder two things:

    1. Who the hell is the Buck Institute? and
    2. Why is the CA Endowment giving them a single dime????

    Let’s draw up some bumper stickers – “Prohibition – it didn’t work the first time!”


  10. Dave: Looking into it. Thanks.

  11. The hangover from Prohibition remains ingrained in our society and government to this day. This attitude has been often blamed on our Puritan tradition but this is not true as pointed out by Richard Mendelson in his excellent book, From Demons to Darling: A Legal History of Wine in America. The Pilgrims actually embraced alcohol; it was overindulgence that they discouraged. It was the rise of Christian evangelism in the 1880s that promoted a zero tolerance attitude toward wine and spirits.

    It wasn’t until 2005 that the United States Dietary Guidelines finally admitted that alcohol may have beneficial effects when consumed in moderation in middle-aged and older adults and endorsed the sensible and moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages. As recently as 1991 the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans advised adults not to drink at all, claiming alcoholic beverages had “no net health benefit.” Many states continue to grapple with proposed increases in wine excise taxes, including California where a recently proposed 640% increase in wine excise tax was defeated.

  12. Rusty,

    You said: It was the rise of Christian evangelism in the 1880s that promoted a zero tolerance attitude toward wine and spirits.

    You are correct. If any group is to hold major blame, it’s the Calvinist attitude that prevailed. But the evangelists had an unwitting partner–saloon owners. They gave evangelists a gift by allowing prostitution and gambling on their premises, inflating the cause of religion. Also, the women’s suffrage movement latched onto the cause and helped further it.

    Wine got sucked into the vortex even though it wasn’t the alcohol problem of the period. In fact, the man whose name is on a widely known alcohol abuse rehabilitation facility, Benjamin Rush, was a wine drinker who agreed with T. Jefferson that wine in moderation produced a medical benefit. Alas, his stand against other alcohols was used by Prohibitionists to further their cause and his wine message got sidetracked.

    Organizations like Marin Inst. have been around ever since the original Prohibition movement. They become increasingly more savvy at hiding their affiliations and their real agenda, and if you want to blame that on an entity, you can blame it on the social movement PR machine, the one that someone above referenced to Goebbels, whose lesson was well-learned by those in that industry.

  13. So what’s wrong with prostitution and gambling?

  14. Steve,

    You are right on with this. I think MI’s cohorts have been working overtime here in Kentucky.

  15. I am confused on the direction of this post? I agree with you Steve, it is a lie and some what funny. “Thank You for Smoking” comes to mind, yet do we need to get all pumped up and waste time making stickers (I know it was a joke). I don’t think it is a mystery that large companies by smaller companies, in any industry. If quality goes down and the consumer still buys it, who is to blame. I have never been contacted by the MI and I work for a small winery under 5,000 cases in California. I am not sure what they can do to help the “family owned winery” when it seems their ultimate goal is to destroy alcohol.

    I wasn’t aware though that we should be scared of another prohibition?? If cigarettes are still being sold even with a death warning, I am not worried. Cheers.

  16. Joe, I don’t think another Prohibition is imminent. But we must always remain watchful.

  17. Seems to me that we have hit upon the two truths here.

    The chances of a new Prohibition are next to nil. Even the imposition of higher alcohol taxes has been met with a big yawn for the most part.

    But, it is always important to know what sneaky things the bastards are getting up to.

  18. Movements like Prohibition take time and they prey on the complacent. It took nearly 80 years for the first one to succeed, and even on its eve there were people in the wine industry that believed wine would be exempt from the legislation.

    It’s PR like Marin’s that builds the momentum. Couple that with a rise in evangelism and it’s only a matter of time.

    Steve, nothing wrong with prostitution and gambling that a good binge won’t fix…

  19. Great article, Steve! I find the Marin Institute the poster child for organizations who need to dissolve and find some other issue to confront…

  20. Steve, an intriguing article and certainly the “wowzer” element works in Australia. Good tactics on their part of course … in the name of their “Cause”.

    I would take a different view of large corporations taking over smaller wne makers however. In Australia the path you outline has not held true and the “Corporates” have often – more often than not indeed – DOWN-graded many of the labels that were admired “family” companies.

    The result has been the plethora of sameness that you currently see in US markets, and it is NOT representative of the wide variety of styles and regions that are available to Australian drinkers. The Constellations of this world, in my experience, do dumb down.

    This is in great part because of the consolidation of the Three Tier system – these same entities (or their equivalent), controlling much of the distribution chain. Now, fair enough, consolidate by all means for financial efficiency – but then change the laws to allow free trade.

    In Australia, alcohol doesn’t have the political stigma that it has in the US – and we often shake our heads in wonder and ask, “What planet are you on?”.

  21. Dede Vandyke says:

    Well, it makes sense! We’re having a depression 1929 style,
    and the Marin Institute wants to reenact Prohibition Days.
    Luckily I still have my Father’s Prohibition ceramic “dog” whose ear is a cork so I’m ready for ’em!

  22. Joaquin Murrieta says:

    ok steve lets get passed elementary school papers writing. Your essay reads like a hate speech it has no point to it aside from insulting the Marin Institute.

  23. Joaquin Murrieta says:

    the people who read and write in this blog sound like conspiracy theorist

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