Wine Tariffs and the Threat of “Drink American”

This is new and this has some important implications to consider:

“Perfect. I agree with that 100%; America has enough resources on her own, most of everything has much better quality anyway. BUY AMERICAN!”

“Based upon the pix looks like a bunch of winos gonna be teed off, ..they’ll get over it!”

These two comments made in response to a recent article laying out the threat to the American wine industry from proposed tariffs of up to 100% on European wines are just two examples of a very common response to the wine industry’s recent pushback against proposed and potentially devastating tariffs. These kinds of reactions also represent the most important problem faced by the wine industry—a problem that does not have a solution.

On the one hand, these comments represent the nationalist tide that has begun to sweep over large swaths of the country. On the other hand, they represent the engrained belief among another large swath of Americans that wine is a plaything of the rich and privileged. The nationalist tide is a headwind that threatens the industry’s importing contingent. The “wine-is-a-rich-folks-drink” mentality is a threat to wine sales in general. And both are hints that the current threat of 100% tariffs on EU wines has significant support among Americans—bad news for the wine industry.

The ongoing effort to oppose the potential 100% tariffs on EU wines in response to the Boeing/Airbus dispute represents the single most impressive industry-wide response to any national policy initiative I’ve seen in 30 years. Every segment of the industry from restaurants and retailers to importers and wholesalers, has engaged with the Trump administration. By all accounts that effort has been single-minded—to stop the tariffs.

Moreover, consumers have been successfully engaged on the issue. The consumer write-in effort organized by the National Association of Wine Retailers alone generated over 25,000 emails to lawmakers as well as thousands of more comments to the United States Trade Representative.

The media response has also been impressive. Nearly every wine-related or wine-adjacent media outlet has recounted the industry’s warnings of the impact of these tariffs on the American wine industry. National news outlets have also presented the industry’s case.

And yet by my reckoning, the comments on these various articles, when not written by industry types or fervent wine drinkers, has pushed back against opposition to tariffs by advancing an “American first” mindset and describing those opposed to tariffs as high brow rich folk who can live with more expensive wines or just “drink American”.

This kind of reaction is not a result of the wine industry neglecting to make the point that these proposed tariffs could simply end thousands of U.S. jobs. In fact, this has been the primary message delivered to administration officials and the media and that message has been reported. Rather, this dismissive response from the average American is an indication of the dismissive attitude the average American has of wine and wine drinkers in general (mixed as it is with a nationalist “America First” ideology).

There is nothing to be done about this. That’s both a reality the wine industry must face up to and a condition that could prompt an interesting development if other opportunists decided to take advantage of this reality.

I see no chance at all that any combination of promotional and marketing efforts will convince those swaths of Americans that wine is neither an elitist drink nor that European wines are especially important to the American wine market. However, I can imagine a fairly simple promotional effort that takes advantage of these conditions with a “Drink American” campaign.

I’ve never seen such an effort surrounding wine marketing, but it would, at this moment, be especially easy to carry out and especially easy to find a firm embrace for the idea. Who would choose to carry out such a campaign? No one with an ounce of ethics. No one with concern for the American wine industry. No one with any real interest in the American wine consumer. And no one with any true appreciation for the special meaning of wine.

In other words, lots and lots and lots of folks could choose to take advantage of this particular moment in American politics. In fact, all it would take to begin this movement and campaign would be a single tweet from one person.

4 Responses

  1. Jim Bernau - January 29, 2020

    Thank you Tom for your continued advocacy for the long term interests of the American wine consumer AND producer.

  2. Judy Parker - January 29, 2020

    As Jim said, thank you, Tom. I know we have changed the tide of thinking of Senator Wyden – let’s hope it continues.

  3. Al Scheid - January 29, 2020

    This is just more evidence that every time the government messes with free enterprise, bad things happen. As my old grandmother used to say, “do-gooders never do good.” Doubt that, look at the student loan program – worse than a failure. And the topper – Prohibition -for which we are still paying.

  4. Austin Beeman - January 30, 2020

    Something else that I’m not seeing discusses id a cultural shift from a “European Dream” of lifestyle to an “Asian Dream” of lifestyle from Boomers to Millenials and Gen Z. The move from wine, foie gras, and 3 hour dinners as the aspiration. To Kombucha, noodles, and technology.

    Perhaps it is time for a “Got Wine?” marketing initiative harnessing the combined american wine business – including all the importers.

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