Vintage Deception:
The Wine Institute's Manipulation of Scientific Research to Promote Wine Consumption Executive Summary

Under the guise of "education," the Wine Institute has launched a publicity campaign to sell more wine. The wine industry's pronouncements about scientific findings of the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption have saturated the media and entered the public consciousness. This "one size fits all" propaganda subverts public health policy and misleads the public about the advantages of drinking.

The wine industry's message overstates the case for wine and spreads potentially dangerous advice that could lead to higher alcohol consumption, with correspondingly higher levels of alcohol problems. Although moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with a reduced risk for heart disease for some people, alcohol does not benefit all people and certain individuals should avoid it altogether.

An analysis of Wine Institute publications, including recent Newsflashes, Research News Bulletins, Special Media Advisories, and its website, found that the Institute has:

  1. made exaggerated claims about the health benefits of alcohol and wine;
  2. suggested human health benefits from wine on the basis of an unpublished laboratory study;
  3. regularly omitted the cautions and qualifications made by researchers whose studies it cites;
  4. and failed completely to mention the health risks of alcohol consumption.

A few examples of the Wine Institute's manipulation of research findings:

  • One chart on the Institute's website (www.wineinstitute.org) asserts that studies have found moderate alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects on the common cold, kidney stones, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cognition and memory, pancreatic cancer, and many other conditions. The evidence for those benefits is preliminary, inconclusive, and contradicted by other research, yet the chart portrays wine as a virtual panacea. Neither the chart nor the website make any mention of wine's potential addictiveness or any of the serious and widespread health and safety problems linked to moderate or heavy drinking.
  • A January 1997 Wine Institute Newsflash headline boasts that resveratrol in wine acts as an anti-cancer agent. Although it identified the study as preliminary, the release ignored critical facts that temper the implications of the research. It failed to disclose that the mice in the study consumed resveratrol equivalent to the amount found in human consumption of five gallons of wine per day. It ignored the fact that scientists have found no evidence that the resveratrol could be absorbed into the human bloodstream through food or wine consumption. Other prominent researchers were unable to detect resveratrol in human bloodstreams, even after giving subjects "huge amounts of red wine" high in the compound. Wine Institute coverage of the study also omitted the authors' express reservations about the adverse effects of long-term alcohol consumption and their specific recommendation of foods and non-alcoholic beverages derived from grapes as preferable dietary sources of resveratrol.
  • In May 1997, the same month that an editorial in the scientific journal Epidemiology counseled women to avoid alcohol to reduce their breast cancer risk, the Wine Institute issued a Special Media Advisory suggesting that moderate wine consumption is not associated with increased risk of breast cancer. The advisory failed to report that the studies did not rule out the possibility of breast cancer risk at moderate levels of alcohol consumption or that they contradicted several other research findings. The Media Advisory ignored other factors that could have accounted for the finding of lower risk of breast cancer among moderate wine consumers. The report even excluded the opinion of the authors of one of the studies it cited. Those authors concluded that their study supports "the hypothesis that alcohol intake is a cause of breast cancer. A lifetime average of even one drink per day appears to be associated with a modest increase in risk." The American Cancer Society and government health agencies have cautioned women, especially those with a family history of breast cancer, to limit their alcohol consumption.

Health professionals, government officials, journalists, and the public should scrutinize the scientific research and the Wine Institute's commercial propaganda with great care. Journalists should be skeptical of Wine Institute reports, actively seek balance on issues raised by industry pronouncements, and provide additional information on problems related to alcohol consumption. The Institute should not be considered a reliable source of public health advice for the nation.

This report was authored by Laura Steinhardt and George Hacker. Ms. Steinhardt, a Yale undergraduate, interned at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in the summer of 1997. George Hacker directs the Alcohol Policies Project at CSPI.

The full Vintage Deception report is available for $5.00 plus $3.50 s/h. Contact CSPI's Alcohol Policies Project, or call 202/332-9110, ext. 385, or mail $8.50 to: CSPI -- Alcohol Policies, 1875 Connecticut Ave. N.W. Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009.

October 2, 1997