So, this is one of those rare posts of mine that is not based on solid facts and data. That does not mean that it's not right, just that I'm not citing objective data. It's pure opinion. Hopefully, that means that it will be less befuddling and soporific than my typical post.
I'm glad to see that Lew is needling the Institute. The Institute does a lot for us and is basically the only game in town when it comes to lobbying for wineries. We need them to talk to politicians and to give official responses to shakedowns by arsenic oil salesmen and the slimeball who found an unsurprising inconsistency in Prop 65 that opened everyone up to lawsuits. But we also need them to be open and open to criticism. And, frankly, we would all benefit if they got better at what they do, which they can't unless they are open and take critique well.
Lew is in a particularly good position to do this. He has the whole industry's attention and a journalist's skill set and integrity. He writes well. But, unlike Wines & Vines or WBM, he isn't as bound by all journalistic constraints. He can pursue a story and write about it when he still has little to actually report on. He can express an overt aim of affecting the behavior of the subject.
I don't know the whole history of the apparent friction between Lew and the Institute, but I hope the Institute is receptive to his criticism and transparent. So far, it seems that they are not. Certainly, I would like to see greater transparency from them.
On the other hand, I would encourage Lew to be focused in what he is looking into. Trying to place responsibility for increased market share for imports on the Institute is silly. The Institute doesn't have the resources to affect that. Foreign producers can produce more cheaply and California simply can't supply domestic consumption. This has more to do with domestic costs, driven by regulatoins far outside the scope of the Institute's purview. It has to do with foreign subsidies. Really, it's not as if we're having to distill a bunch of our wine or that we're exporting it. We drink nearly everything we grow.
Additionally, I'm not sure it's a big deal that a smaller percentage of total bonded wineries are Institute members. I would guess that many of these new bonds belong to very small wineries that lack the time and financial resources to want to deal with membership. I would guess that many are held by lifestyle wineries - by people who have little financial stake in the industry and less reason to join the Institute.
Similarly, I don't think the Institute needs to raise the ire of the FDA or that it is cost-effective to wade into the murky waters of health science. Instead, let the Institute go after those situations in which it can actually solve the problem, like going after the false arsenic panic.
Where I really agree with Lew, though, is that the Wine Institute really needs to up its game with data. There are so many sources of data out there and we are all piecing together what we can, when we need it, duplicating efforts and often bungling things. The Institute has the resources to put good sales data out there. We need them to do a better job of giving accurate snapshots of wine production, sales and consumption.
Anyways, I'll end with a thank you to both Lew and the Institute for doing what they do for the industry. Cheers!