The Fool’s Errand of Trying To Link Wine and Politics

Attempting to gauge the political leanings of the “wine industry”, as some have recently attempted and about which others have speculated, is a fool’s errand. You can’t do so by tallying up political campaign contributions. You can’t do it by analyzing social media postings.

The only way to determine if this thing called “the wine industry” leans left or right or otherwise is to look at voting data for those that work in the wine industry. That requires first identifying which occupations qualify to be part of the wine industry and then to look at their voting records. The first is an interesting academic task. The second is impossible.

I suppose we could do surveys of those who work in the wine industry, but to what end? If we discover that among wine industry workers 59% support left-leaning politicians and policies, what then? If we discover that wine industry workers support right-leaning politicians and policies, what should be the reaction? My argument is that this kind of industry and consumer navel-gazing matters not in the least.

Where politics and the wine industry intersect, and where it matters, is almost exclusively in the realm of alcohol-related laws and regulations. In this case, partisanship is rarely an issue. Rather, self-interest and economic considerations almost always guide the degree to which a member of the wine industry supports one or another alcohol-related policy or regulation.

Direct Shipping: If you are a winery owner, winery worker or work in the vineyard size of the industry, the chances or highly likely (95%?) that you support the interstate direct shipment of wine. If you work in the wholesaler side of the industry, the chances that you support franchise laws and oppose supplier self-distribution laws are high (I’d bet nearly 90%). If you are a wine store owner or work in a wine store you likely oppose Interstate retailer wine shipments, though the odds of this are somewhat lower than the previous two examples of self-interest guiding one’s position on wine-related legal and regulatory issues.

On the other hand, if you want an inkling of the politics of wine drinkers, then you need to ask how educated the consumer is and determine their income. Five years ago Gallup quantified what most folks understood: The higher your income and the more formal education you possess, the more likely you will be a wine drinker. Hence, if you can determine in general what kind of politics are healed by higher income, more highly educated folks, you’ll have a very, very general idea of the politics of wine drinkers.

If you are wondering about the demographics of the kind of person most likely to drink alcohol, Gallup’s survey reveals they are a 40-year-old, married, college-educated white male living in a suburb of the East Coast and making $75,000 or more per year.

Finally, there is the question of whether or not a particular person’s politics can adversely or positively impact their career or investments in the wine industry. Clearly, they can.

No doubt Jordan Winery in Sonoma, Cakebread in Napa Valley, and Oregon’s Domaine Serene will lose a few customers after it was disclosed their owners have contributed to the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. However, the degree to which there will be a significant negative impact on these brands’ bottom lines and therefore the employees of these brands with their politically promiscuous views, probably has to do with the degree to which the marketers and executives behind these brands dwell publicly on the disclosures of campaign contributions.

In the end, however, the politics of a wine brand or of the industry or of the wine drinker are likely to matter little in the overall trend of wine drinking or wine brand differentiation. And trying to make it so or discover the political orientation of an entire industry is, again, a fool’s errand.

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  1. Judy Parker - June 15, 2020

    I think had DS stayed silent (and thus consistent) on its social media, the outcry would not have been as large, at least here in the Willamette Valley. The hypocrisy is at issue here, not the underlying political leaning. See, for example, the lack of outrage about Durant (as in daughter Durant’s husband’s role as European Union ambassador, etc).

  2. Jim Ruxin - June 15, 2020

    Bravo, Tom. As usual, yours is a well reasoned voice, backed up by facts,

  3. George - June 15, 2020

    I think the folks at GALLUP would appreciate the correct spelling of their name….rather than being what a horse does….

  4. Lee - June 15, 2020

    I think it might be worth noting that the stigma of being a ongoing Trump supporter in California is much, much less defensible that merely being a “conservative”. I also personally blame the Republicans who are allowing him to so what he is doing as well. So I shall choose to spend my wine dollars elsewhere, and will actively encourage others to do so as well.
    On the other hand a “conservative independent” , while misguided (IMHO), who has not and is not furthering the current gang of grifters in office, is off the hook, at least from me.

  5. Bill Tobey - June 15, 2020

    I choose the companies I purchase from for a variety of reasons. Politically leaning is one of them and is often the most inaccurately reported in the news media.

  6. Helene - June 16, 2020

    As is almost always the case, I am so delighed that I live in UK/France and NOT in the States. I am a conservative who wastes her vote on almost rational Independents…but I do believe in, ‘Don’t bother to vote; don’t bother to complain.’

  7. Blake Gray - June 16, 2020

    People are people. They do not move in unison.

    Of the many poorly reasoned things with that awful AAWE tweet was its ignorance of base rate, which should be taught in introductory statistics. What’s the base rate of Americans who support Trump? Right now it’s about 41%. Is there any reason to believe people who work with wine will be different, on the whole, than the base rate? I didn’t and don’t see it.

    How you feel about the politics of the wine industry depends on who you talk to. I know writers who only talk to winemakers and they think the industry is very liberal. To them I say, go spend some time with farmers. There are geographic differences as well. Take Washington state as an example: the west side of the state is very liberal and the east side, where all the grapes are, is not. There’s just not one simple picture.

    This is also true of wine drinkers and has been shown in countless surveys. As Michael Jordan famously said, Republicans also buy shoes. And they buy wine. I’m not at all certain that exposing certain winery owners as Trump supporters will hurt their businesses, because Trump-supporting wine lovers might buy more as a result. Again, base rate. 41% of American consumers is a lot.

  8. Tom Wark - June 16, 2020

    What Blake said!

  9. Michael S - June 16, 2020

    “Where politics and the wine industry intersect, and where it matters”…so are you saying the political leanings of the brands (or the owners of said brands) that people buy doesn’t matter? Because while other generations might not feel they do, I am certainly one of the 51% of millennials that Vinepair spoke of that does feel they matter. You can say “My argument is that this kind of industry and consumer navel-gazing matters not in the least” until you are blue in the face, but times-are-a-changin’ and now it does matter. Older generations are almost entirely responsible for the over politicization of the whole world in the first place, but now you’re pissed because it’s finally come into your industry? Give me a break…every industry is ALREADY politicized. Every industry SHOULD be scrutinized. Every industry NEEDS to be more accountable of what their dollars support, whether it’s direct or indirect, political or not. It’s a cop out to say that because the data used is faulty that it doesn’t matter.

  10. Blake Gray - June 16, 2020

    Michael, what I am referring to, and what set Tom off as well, was a tweet by the AAWE that said the wine industry overwhelmingly supports Trump. That is provably not true and that is what Tom is trying to prove.

    Now, do I think it’s useful to publish a list of companies that donate to Trump, so that people who think he’s a fascist and a Russian asset … I could go on but I think I’m preaching to the converted … can buy from other companies? Personally, yes I do. Knowing which businesses are donating money to try to end democracy as we know it in the United States should affect buying decisions.

    Where we get our backs up is that a huge percentage of the donations were made by Marvin Shanken, who AAWE has a nut for for some reason. Which is AAWE’s prerogative. But do YOU subscribe to Wine Spectator? One of the things I said from the beginning is that Trump supporters are probably over-represented among Spectator readers and such a revelation will probably not hurt Shanken’s business. Fine, publish it, let people know.

    Other winery owners that want to throw cash at the fascist, fine, let us know.

    But don’t blame “the wine industry”! That’s where our objections are. My very first objection was, Marvin Shanken is not the wine industry. Nor are a few winery owners. The wine industry is cellar rats and sommeliers and PR people and lab chemists and sales folks and district managers and … I could go on an on, but that’s my point.

  11. Mark Golodetz - June 17, 2020

    These are strange times; under normal circumstances I would never hold a person’s politics against them. Now I do, thanks to Trump. Corrupt and incompetent, I feel you have to be either incredibly stupid or a pig at his trough to support him, and if you give him money I will certainly have no interest in what you have to say or what you are peddling. It sometimes hurts; I can no longer support the soccer team I have supported for decades because the owner raised $1 million for him. Also no longer a Jets fan; same reason.

  12. Bill Tobey - June 17, 2020

    Mark- So do you feel the same way about Bill Clinton behavior with an intern? If not why not?

  13. Jim Ruxin - June 17, 2020

    Bill–

    Getting a blow jobs from an intern is trivial when compared to:

    Eliminating the Pandemic Preparedness Group at the NSC in 2017
    Calling the pandemic a hoax
    Allowing the US to fall behind securing PPEs and then not helping the states
    Doing nothing in March 2020 and allowing the pandemic to catch fire
    Saying the deaths would stop soon, while they have climbed to 120,000
    Huge tax cuts for the rich and no improvement for working people
    Calling the Charlottesville supremacists fine people
    Calling for a rally of 19,000 people in an enclosed space, despite the warnings of the top health
    officials of the state and within his own administration
    Do you need more, or all these forgivable or minor offenses.

    Clinton got only a few smiles on his face, whereas everything Trump does is to pump up his eago and enrage his base, further dividing the country..

    If your morality holds Clinton’s offenses equal to Trump’s, then your moral compass has lost its magnetic North.

    I don’t mind someone’s conservative feelings and ideas, as long as they are well reasoned. Yours was…unacceptable. No wonder the country is in trouble.

  14. Michael S - June 17, 2020

    Blake, I saw the tweet from the AAWE and I saw the backlash from it. And frankly, I did subscribe to the Wine Spectator…until I saw that tweet. That’s exactly, I guess, what I was talking about in holding companies accountable. It made me realize (whereas before I was completely unaware) that I do not want to support a publication that gave close to $200,000 to a president who then went on to almost RUIN the industry that gave that person the money to donate in the first place. 25% tariffs were what Marvin Shanken’s $200,000 bought. I don’t care if the last time he donated was in 2018, he still bought his product, no returns and no refunds.

    I don’t think it’s fair either to say the wine industry as a whole is supportive of Trump based off 50 or so donations (or however many the AAWE misused to make their point), but if some of the power players, some of the movers and shakers are supportive then I see no reason not to call them out. Yeah, it contributes to the politicization of the world, but at this point who gives a f***? The world is already there, time for the wine industry to follow suit.

    If Tom believes in what he posted, he SHOULD do a survey of political opinions, and set the record straight. I’d be happy to help, I’m one of many wine industry folk who is currently jobless and looking for things to do.

  15. Robert P Behlendorf - June 18, 2020

    I’m sorry, I only drink wine from a politically correct winery, that uses politically correct grapes, politically correct labor to pick, politically correct drivers to deliver, politically correct winery folks to produce, politically correct marketing department, politically correct delivery, political correct sales location, etc. etc. etc. By the time I have checked all those qualifications, the wine store is closed. Maybe tomorrow. Over and out.

  16. Donn Rutkoff - June 18, 2020

    I gave up using facebook mostly due to the obscene vulgarity I received from many wine people I used to interact with in the bay area, when I was a wine salesman and an “alum” of Napa Valley College . I wrote on facebook that I was conservative and the Russia spy hoax was a fraud against the voters. I was amazed how many former acquaintances were unable to control their gutter language while attacking me. Not very social. But very typical San Francisco.Stalinists. Let’s see what you get now.

  17. Jim Ruxin - June 18, 2020

    Robert B.–

    Your comment is proof that the best way to unseat hard held beliefs is to use humor. Beat them at their own game. Make America great again by defeating Biden!

  18. Jim Ruxin - June 18, 2020

    SO SORRY–

    Those who know me know I meant make America great again by defeating Trump!!! But by all means drink whatever you want, unless it is owned by or licensed by The Donald, his family, enablers, Putin or Xi. No worries, it would all be plonk.

  19. Bill Tobey - June 18, 2020

    The wine store was closed! I love it!

    As an independent wine broker, I have committed to NEVER dealing with a winery or broker that is supporting the POT business. Do I think you and everyone else should agree with me. Sure! But I don’t expect you will but I will retain my integrity.

  20. Jim Ruxin - June 18, 2020

    Bill T.–

    We earn integrity, we don’t claim to have it meaning that we will stick to our guns. You have every right to think, believe and purchase wine in any way you want or don’t want to do so. No rational, fair minded person would ever take that right away from you.

    But integrity means being an involved citizen, engaged in the facts of history and current events, and questioning the validity of your own beliefs as you go. Your position sounds entrenched, incapable of change. And if arch-conservatism and/or Trump are your measure of integrity, I suggest you take a hard look at the inherent hypocrisy, lies and denial they espouse.

    That is not integrity, that is just selfishness cloaked in libertarian clothing.

    Our worst enemy is our own complacency or silence. Your voice is genuine, but lacks the integrity of self-examination and intellectual rigor. Like the wine store closing that amused you,
    the mental closing of your position will create come back to haunt you.

    Your position is like that of the three tier system, an antiquated system of self-protection for vested interests that serve no one but a few stakeholders, despite their claims of safety and freedom for others.

  21. Bill Tobey - June 18, 2020

    Jim-

    I love being an American because we are free to have and express opinion which I did. Then you go on a tirade without knowing anything about me or how I came to the beliefs I have.

    So who lacks integrity?

    Thi will be my last response to you. Thanks for listening!

  22. Jim Ruxin - June 18, 2020

    Bill–

    You did nothing to engage with anyone here other to dig in. You are the one who left your claim of “integrity” open to inquiry. You may very well be a person of integrity, but nothing you said demonstrates it as being well earned.

    Your position is not one that makes participatory democracy work. And refusal to engage confirms it.


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