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Report debunking myths of family wineries also sheds light on where farm workers fit in vineyards’ business agenda

LatinaLista — One of the most aspirational goals that personify the “American Dream” is the notion of creating a business that is carried through the generations of a single family.

Aside from small local businesses, there is no greater example of that American Dream than in the wine industry — or so we thought.


For decades, we’ve watched the television commercials, seen the billboard signs and believed the hype that the wines we share with our family and friends come from the vineyards of families like our own.

Over the last year, thanks to the good work being done at United Farm Workers, we are learning how these vineyards are not very family-friendly when it comes to their workers.

Now, we know it’s because families “like ours” aren’t running them.

A new report titled The Myth of the Family Winery: Global Corporations Behind California Wine untangles the vines of marketing deceit to show us the true landscape of the California wine industry, which helps explain why the lives of their farm workers are seen as nothing more than expendable commodities.

According to the report:

Six of the seven producers that own 82 percent of U.S. wine are global corporations.

Six of the ten top wine producers also own spirits and beer brands.

The Wine Institute, despite its tag line of the “Voice of California Wine,” is controlled by executives from Diageo, Constellation Brands, Foster’s, and Brown-Forman, multinational conglomerates all based outside of California and with product portfolios that also include major spirits and beer brands.

Because the bottom line is all about the business, these conglomerates have little interest other than growing their own profits. Unfortunately, as a big business dealing with a product that really requires responsibility and accountability, both from the companies and consumers, it’s disheartening to read of these companies’ agendas that counters a way to keep more people safe and potentially help lower the nation’s deficit.

The California wine industry promotes an image of small mom and pop vintners in picturesque, rolling hills and valleys of Napa, Sonoma, and around the state. In reality nearly all of the leading wine producers in California are massive corporations that are integrated with “Big Alcohol,” multinational conglomerates promoting and controlling politics in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

…the global corporations that own California wine are determined to deregulate alcohol in every state through diminishing the three-tier alcohol system, consolidating distribution, and most importantly, by applying undue influence on the political process that includes defeating efforts to increase alcohol taxes and fees at both the state and federal levels.

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  • James Barrett
    December 16, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    It is surprising, really, that anyone would be surprised that most California wine (by volume and revenue) is produced and sold by large corporations. I am not aware of any consumer product where that is not the case. And this is nothing new; it has been this way since the infancy of the California wine industry (E&J Gallo, which has been by far the largest producer of California wines for decades, is hardly a “family company”).
    That being said, there are, in fact, hundreds of small, closely held wineries producing excellent wines in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Paso Robles, and other areas of the state. The California wine industry is rightly famous for these types of wineries.
    Which leads me to my main point about your article. In the last paragraph, you either wrote or quoted someone else that the large wine producers are intent on diminishing the three-tier system (among other evil deeds). On this point, you are absolutely incorrect. The large wineries love the three-tier system because they dominate it. This system rewards size/volume and the marketing you seem to detest (which tends to be much better done by the large wineries due to their superior resources); and it largely excludes small, boutique, family owned wineries which simply can not compete due to limited marketing budgets and volume. Ergo, it is these small family owned wineries who want to diminish the three-tier sytem- so that they can sell their product directly to (of age) consumers in other states who enjoy their wine. In many cases, consumers are not able to buy their favorite wine because their local shops and/or restaurants don’t carry it- BECAUSE THE DISTRIBUTORS DON’T DISTRIBUTE IT!! How, then, does the three-tier system benefit anyone other than the large wineries…and the distributors, of course?

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