The back page – issues discussed in Vintage 2000, an interactive wine marketing symposium

The back page – issues discussed in Vintage 2000, an interactive wine marketing symposium – column

Patricia Schneider

The Back Page

Vintage 2000, an interactive wine marketing and public affairs symposium, sponsored by Buena Vista, was held on August 3. This very special industry event, held every two years, emphasized a theme of “The Opportunities Beyond.” The program focused on responsible marketing practices, advances in wine management technologies, and the marketing experience of leaders from the consumer products segment.

One segment of the program featured a computerized audience response system which provided participants the opportunity to register their opinions on key issues brought up during the presentations. After a few warm-up exercises, the audience of 500-plus winegrowers, retailers, wholesalers, health professionals and consumers tackled a series of provocative questions designed to solicit input on vital industry organizational issues.

On one major question the audience was asked to select from a list of options what the strongest approach would be to resolve current and future industry problems. Their overwhelming choice was industry unity. When the results were displayed on the 20 foot video screen, considerable head nodding was observed. But, wait a minute . . . haven’t we heard this before?

It seems that at every industry meeting, both inside and outside of California, not to mention innumerable conversations with vintner and grower principals, involves a discussion on industry unity.

Over recent years, a number of new groups have emerged to address unmet needs. Some industry members are concerned that each organization is advocating its own agenda at the expense of industry needs, particularly on major issues, where inconsistent communications has resulted in a fragmented presentation to the wine industry’s publics.

While the industry struggles with its growth and negative public perception problems, anti-alcohol groups are well organized and moving forward. Their agenda is clearly articulated and coordinated. The movement to reduce per capita consumption by 25% by the year 2000, endorsed by the World Health Organization, is gaining widespread support. Further, anti-alcohol advocates are promoting new controls to change public perception about licensed beverages, severely limit marketing and promotion activities, and dramatically raise excise taxes. Ironically, their cooperation provides a useful model for the wine industry to follow.

So, what do we do? First, we need to ask the right questions. Are the interests of the wine industry best served by multiple, independent groups? What specific issues or areas of common interest can be identified? Who will provide the leadership to bring it forward?

Second, we need to create a mechanism to achieve coordination on common issues. A wine summit, involving key industry groups, can be held with the goal of forging an approach on issues of common interest. A summit will begin the process of building a common agenda designed to tap the unique strengths of each group. We need to build on the Vintage 2000 experience that brought together different groups — AWARE, Wine Institute, American Association of Vintners, National Wine Coalition and others — to address critical issues.

Forty-four states now grow grapes and make wine. Imagine the opportunity this presents for building an effective grassroots network that can serve as a powerful ally in communicating positions to key publics.

Third, we need to reach outside the industry to access groups with similar interests. This includes both other licensed beverage segments and health and social issue groups. The more minds and voices brought together, the more effective the industry will be.

Fourth, we need to make a commitment to change. This will not happen unless we are willing to encourage and endorse what needs to be done.

It’s time the industry concern about lack of unity stop sounding like a broken record. Let’s focus on our common needs and get it done.

Patricia Schneider Executive Director AWARE

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