Wine’s worst enemy: Carter combats ‘no safe limit’ claims

Felicity Carter presenting at the Wine Industry Impact Conference
By Meg Riley

Felicity Carter, wine journalist and co-founder of Business of Drinks, gave an impassioned presentation at the 2023 Wine Industry IMPACT Conference held in Adelaide yesterday, imploring wine producers to battle claims put forth by the World Health Organization (WHO) last year that there is ‘no safe limit’ when it comes to alcohol consumption.

“People don’t believe me, but this is the worst thing I have seen in 25 years of reporting about wine,” said Carter. “The World Health Organization came out in 2022 and they declared there is ‘no safe limit’ for drinking alcohol. They are pressuring the EU to change their guidelines about cancer, they have come out and they have said alcohol causes cancer.”

“Every time I say this, people say, ‘well prohibition didn’t work the first time’ and I say there’s a difference: prohibition was imposed by government, this is people choosing not to drink as they hear the health data.”


Audience members at the Wine Industry IMPACT Conference. Photo: Meg Riley


‘Selling wine in an age of sobriety’

Because of the convoluted nature of the messaging around wine and its health benefits/ downsides, Carter noted that communicating a clear counter argument to the WHO’s declaration was “extremely difficult”.

“It’s a much easier message to simply say ‘don’t drink’ rather than to give a more nuanced position about drinking.”

Carter suggested that wine businesses could encourage drinking in moderation by introducing smaller formats, and reiterated the importance of modelling wine with food to play to wine’s strengths.

Felicity Carter presents at the WISA IMPACT Conference. Photo: Meg Riley


Also presenting at the IMPACT Conference, Andrew Shedden, merchandise manager at Endeavour Group, echoed Carter’s sentiments on the potential for smaller formats.

Shedden observed that whilst making “better choices” was a long term trend among consumers, this was not limited to no and low alcohol or sugar offerings.

“We’re seeing moderation take many, many different forms and need to be cognizant of that,” said Shedden.

In order to capture the Gen Z and Millennial markets, Shedden emphasised the need to appeal to the emerging drinkers, rather than waiting for them to develop an interest in wine.

“We really need to completely flip the way we’re talking about this [wine] and start talking less about ourselves and how great products are – they are, but start talking about it in a sense of how is this relevant to the lives of the people that we want to pick it up?

One way to potentially broach this market could be by changing the consumers perception of what wine is as a category, and make it feel more accessible and approachable to a new audience.

Shedden said that this could be partly responsible for the success of alternative wine styles such as pet nat and piquette with younger consumers.

“It’s expanded what people think wine is and I think that’s healthy whether you like it or not. It will never be massive, but I think it’s important to continue to broaden out the category.”

The theme of the IMPACT Conference, The Only Way Is Up, resonated with many of the presenters, with advice from Stephen Strachan on how to prepare for the sale of assets and Jason Ryan’s insights on how and when to consult lawyers.


Pia Piggott presents on the Rabobank report ‘Swimming in Wine’. Photo: Meg Riley


Analyst Pia Piggott presented Rabobank’s infamous Swimming in Wine report from earlier in the year, examining how a decrease in Australia’s vineyard acreage could affect the industry’s oversupply.

Meantime, Andre Morgenthal discussed the success of the Old Vine Project protecting South Africa’s heritage vines, and CEO of Hawke’s Bay Tourism, Hamish Saxton, shared his journey rebuilding tourism to Hawke’s Bay in the wake of Hurricane Gabriel, and the importance of not wasting a good crisis.

Future Leaders Caitlin Davies and Stephen Paul discussed the different approaches to navigating change and challenges in the wine industry, with Paul’s firsthand account of successfully diversifying his wine offerings at Oakdene Vineyards.

The conference, held at Adelaide Oval in South Australia, was followed by the Wine Industry IMPACT Awards later in the evening.


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