We Don’t Need No Education?

There are early rumblings of a massive trade plan afoot between the EU and the US, and it’s a pretty big deal. The talks began on Monday, and if the process succeeds, it will create the largest agreement  of its kind, and will arguably generate billions of dollars of revenue. The goals are ambitious, to say the least, but, as can probably be expected, there are hurdles. A great many hurdles.

Quite near to the heart of the matter beats an agricultural issue; specifically, genetically modified crops, and the labeling thereof.

I won’t go into too much detail about this here, as my purpose with this post is neither to dissect the pending agreement, nor to take a stand on genetic modification.

What I do want to talk about, however, is labeling.

The drive to label, as far as I see it, is based on one thing, and one thing only: respect for the consumer. Meaning, if you believe in your consumer, and you trust them, and you think them capable of understanding  you, your business, and your product, on a deep and engaged level, then you label. You label, because you believe in educating your consumers, and because you believe that educating your consumers will elevate, not depress, their appreciation for, and support of, your product.

Which is why it was so disturbing to learn that the EU requirement for labeling genetically modified foods is apparently considered a “non-starter” by those on the US side of the argument.

Richard Wilkins — a farmer, and a member of the American Soybean Association — was recently quoted in an NPR program on the subject as saying, in reference to GMO labeling:

“It gives a signal to the less informed purchaser … the less educated consumer would interpret that as, ‘Well, I don’t want to eat that; it contains genetically modified organisms.”

(Before I address this comment, I wish to say that I do not mean to harp on Mr. Wilkins specifically here; his just happens to be a recent and fairly high-profile comment the likes of which have become altogether too common of late.)

The problem with this line of thinking, as far as I am concerned, is that it basically translates to: Because consumers aren’t educated, we shouldn’t tell them anything.

In all fairness to the line of thinking that Mr. Wilkins’ comment represents, I can see the point, to a point. Mr. Wilkins — and many along with him — believes that the current science on genetically modified foods makes it very clear that they are very safe, and accordingly, he supports them. Those on this side of the argument also believe that the very public backlash to genetically modified foods is damaging to their public reputation. And because they feel the backlash to be fundamentally baseless, they feel that genetically modified foods are accordingly not getting a fair shot in the marketplace; that they are in fact getting an undeserved bad rap. And as they believe this is an impediment to product success, they do not wish to do anything to highlight the thing that they feel is giving the products a bad rap. Meaning, Mr. Wilkins, the American Soybean Association, and many more, do not want to have a GMO label requirement, because they feel this will damage the product’s ability to succeed in the marketplace, because they are concerned that people have an inappropriately negative association with the term, due to their being misinformed, or should I say, under-informed.

I get this. At least, I get most of this. I get the analysis. My problem is with the conclusion. As I see it, if the problem is that consumers supposedly don’t know enough to make the right decision, then shouldn’t the answer be to educate them to the point where they can make the right decision? Yet what is being suggested is that, because consumers supposedly don’t know enough to make the right decision (and mind you, I do NOT endorse this supposition), they shouldn’t be told things that are likely to confuse them even more.

As a consumer myself, I want to know more.

I don’t profess to understand all sides of the GMO debate, not by any stretch of the imagination, and as I noted above, my purpose here is not to take a stand either way on the matter. Rather, what I want to do is discuss education and information; our need for it, our right to it, and the responsibility and drive to provide it.

~

Let’s look at another example.

Millenials.

I recently read an interview in which a wine event –specifically targeted towards Millenials — was praised by its promoter because it lacked pretension and would not “intimidate” anyone with “a lot of adjectives.”

Millenials, are you intimidated by adjectives?

I didn’t think so.

But sadly, this is an altogether too-common tone too-often taken by those who wish to market to that demographic we have come to call the Millenials. Not a day goes by where someone somewhere doesn’t post something about how to market to Millenials. And usually, it can be summed up like this: they need a story and an experience, and it has to be authentic, and they need to be engaged, and you have to think about their needs. Translation? They’re kindergarteners. They can’t handle facts, or complicated analysis. Just be nice to them, play with them, tend to them, and they’ll love you.

Or so it would seem these marketers think.

But we at Ridge do not think like this.

Sure, we care about story. We have an amazing one, and we love to share it! And sure we care about experience. That’s why we host you at our estates, we want you to EXPERIENCE Ridge! And as to engagement, we’ve always done that. Ridge has been a face-to-face, deal-on-a-handshake business since Day One. We sell wine the old-fashioned way, one wine drinker at a time.

But above all else, we just believe in you.

Have you seen our back labels? Here is a newly-created one:

11CMB1-L

Doesn’t look too different from one back in the day:

71CSMB-L

Ad that’s because we’ve always believed in you!

Those labels are there to educate, not denigrate. We believe in you; we believe that you want to learn, that you can learn, that you enjoy learning. And more than that, we believe we can learn from you. Those labels aren’t unidirectional. We want you to ask us about them, to ask about what’s on them, to query us, to challenge us, to ENGAGE us!

And that’s why we’re now engaging in ingredient labeling. When Paul Draper penned the letter announcing our intentions, and explaining our motivations, he concluded by saying that “we hope to encourage other fine-wine producers to voluntarily entrust their customers with a list of ingredients.”

To voluntarily entrust their customers with a list of ingredients.

That pretty much says it all.

That pretty much says it all about how we feel as regards knowledge, education, and trust.

And that’s how we feel about labeling. If you don’t know it all yet, we want to help you know more. And we believe that the more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to make good choices.

RV_IngredientLabeling_Back

And while off course we hope that in the end you’ll choose us, that’s not even the point.

The point is, you simply deserve to know.

~

To read Paul Draper’s letter about our labeling decision, please click here.

And to read more about our Ingredient Labeling Program, please click here.

And please enjoy the following video on the subject of Ridge Vineyards and Ingredient Labeling:



Categories: Business of Wine, History, Ingredient Labeling, Monte Bello, Paul Draper, Social Media, Video, Vineyards and Oenology, Vintage Wine Labels, Viticultural Salmagundi

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. Paul Draper continues to be a true pioneer and visionary in the world of wine. Kudos Ridge! Let’s hope this new format of labeling is contagious and promotes more natural winemaking practices, and healthy competition.

  2. If “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” … I can certainly understand why some people might conclude that a LOT of knowledge is an even more dangerous thing.

    My logic would line up with yours and that of millions of educators worldwide: If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a LOT of knowledge is a much less dangerous thing.

  3. Christopher — I heartily agree with your comments & analysis! Thanks for your well thought out commentary (as is usual in your blog) !

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