Wine and politics: a perfect match?


Clear political positions have always been a no-no for wine brands, but that could change.

By Liza B. Zimmerman | Posted Thursday, 07-Oct-2021

The We The People brand, composed of a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay, arrived on the market at the end of last year. Its marketing slogan is: “Every sip is one more step towards freedom. Drink! “

The brand’s website states that the wine, “made for patriots” and priced at $ 27.99 to $ 29.99 a bottle, is “an American brand dedicated to conservative values. [with a capital C]. Our wine is made for Americans by Americans. The American exception, free markets, free people, free speech and limited government are what we stand for.

Winery owners have always stood up for their own political values, but most have done so quietly. At a time when the United States and the world are facing massive political upheaval and a pandemic, it’s an odd time to launch such a strongly positioned brand. Such an outright push for “freedom” at all costs also appears to be out of touch with the number of people around the world who felt the storming of the US capital on January 6 and the fact that the Covid epidemic leaves more body in its wake – especially states that seem to prioritize “freedom” over health and safety. We, the people of the brand, did not return multiple interview requests.

“From my perspective as a lobbyist for the wine industry, I think it’s really up to the industry to stay apolitical,” says Michael Kaiser, vice president of government affairs for Wine America. The 500-member organization represents American wineries in working to improve legislation regulating winemaking, sales, and distribution. “It’s a bad deal to do what this brand does.”

To look closer

Wine brands have never completely escaped politics. Note that former President Trump has long owned a winery in Virginia. There is nothing illegal about a brand having a political agenda, confirms alcoholic beverages specialist John Hinman.

Others in the wine industry agree that there is nothing wrong with a brand having a basic political agenda. “Of course, wine has to be political. Brands have to represent something,” shares Bourcard Nesin, beverage analyst at Rabobank in New York. He adds that, therefore, “you would expect brands to represent the breadth of opinion and values ​​that are represented in society at large.”

For Nesin, this does not appear to be the case with this brand. He notes: “That being said, this wine company clearly sidesteps honest political discourse and instead produces racist dog whistle ads that … [in the case of the advertisement on its site] Systematically portray black protesters as violent and anti-American. That’s pretty crass, reductionist stuff. “

The recent culture wars are “incredibly motivating for individuals from both political parties,” he adds. Addressing the two-minute video promoting the brand on his site, he notes, “With thousands of brands in the market competing for attention, this is a super powerful way to differentiate yourself, but building a brand on the back of racist images is likely to attract a vocal contingent of loyal white supremacists to support your brand, which, while not leading to financial bankruptcy, is most certainly morally bankrupt. “

The black wine professionals are the sources I wish I had heard from for this story, and half a dozen of them didn’t answer my questions. Unfortunately, there are few in our field of white lilies and I think being white myself did not encourage them to respond.

The only comment I received from a black winemaker, unofficially, was that the black community needs greater representation in the wine business. “We have to counter the narrative to have a bigger impact on the brand.”

He added that “we need more André Macks”, referring to a former high profile black sommelier who worked at the Per Se restaurant in New York under the direction of chef Thomas Keller who founded Maison Noir Wines, a winery in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

About this ad

The We the People site features intense, and at times confusing, advertising that appears to encourage free speech while sometimes portraying black rights movements in a negative and violent light. It is 120 seconds filled with images that are available for a number of interpretations.

Ronald Reagan, the conservative mainstay who ruled the United States for most of the 1980s, figures prominently amid the two-minute video commercial. While Hinman notes that Reagan’s image confirms the brand’s identification with a Republican icon, he doesn’t dispute it. “It’s neither good nor bad. It’s just a marketing ploy.” He adds that the wine trade has long been politicized, prompting the curious to “rethink the 1990s and the health battles around red wine and the French Paradox”.

© We the people
| There are strongly pro-American images and attitudes associated with the brand.

The morality of solidarity causes

We the People wouldn’t be the only brand to donate a percentage of its revenue to a cause. Many brands have historically made donations to veterans or charities. “There are many good examples of producers creating brands that support causes with a portion of the proceeds dedicated to a cause,” said Rob McMillian, founder and executive vice president of the Napa-based Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division. He adds that cause-based marketing is nothing new, noting that Stoller Family Estates in Oregon donates to veterans and that Land of Promise wine “has continued to promote its first-hand immigrant view of the world. gratitude to God and this country “.

He continues to defend the vineyards from a political perspective. “Consumers increasingly expect businesses to be good social stewards. If you don’t choose a path in the fight, social media will likely bring the fight to your doorstep. The wine industry is increasingly being accused of being white and masculine and you are seeing many wineries adopting statements on diversity, equity and inclusion. “

Ultimately, “the consumer decides what he wants to buy or not. Some may react to ‘proudly made in the USA’, others may like what the brand is dedicated to,” confirms Danny Brager, a Southern California based wine consultant who worked with Nielsen for many years.

Kaiser, of WineAmerica, says he is “unaware of any wine brand that is as political as this. Often times wineries will be political with their check books, donating to political candidates, organizing fundraisers etc. But I have never seen a brand so overtly political. Also, as I said above, wineries usually donate to politicians on both sides of the world. the aisle. “Bottom line, he concludes that” it’s up to the industry not to stray too far anyway. [politically]”.

As for the timing of the brand’s recent launch at the end of last year, Kaiser also believes the We Are the People brand may well reap the benefits that are hitting the market during a turbulent political state in the United States by this moment. “It probably works to their advantage to get started now. Obviously the tensions are very high in this country and their target audience probably feels aggrieved right now. Also, they can run their marketing by trying to help elect. conservative candidates and to ‘take things back’. “

A financial perspective

While the economy may be ripe for the launch of this brand, some financial analysts still disagree with the brand’s political agenda.

“I don’t understand the relevance of aligning wine with political, religious or any other category preferences… [and] see this wine business as an attempt to capitalize on an economic opportunity with a defined consumer base, ”shares Mario Zepponi, wine merger and acquisition advisor at Santa Rosa-based Zepponi & Company.

He also goes on to note that he finds wine to be an anomaly in the business. He says he is “not aware of any other wine brand that has targeted a specific political party or program. While these types of brands may gain short-term notoriety in the market, I think they will struggle to achieve long-term viability and commercialization. “

However, he goes on to note that, from an economic standpoint, “now is probably the perfect time to launch this type of wine brand. We The People plays on the emotions of political divisions in our country …[and it] gives right-wing voters an outlet to express their views and opposition to the current administration. However, a larger part of the population may prefer to avoid emotionally intensifying the political division in our country. “

While there is no doubt that a brand like this is legal and is likely to be profitable, the bigger dilemma is whether brands with these types of cultural agendas will damage an already frayed political landscape.

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