‘Big Brother’ Getting Too Close for Vintner’s Comfort

From Associated Press

Wine baron Sam Bronfman II is tired of “Big Brother” looking over everybody’s shoulder.

From his hillside headquarters south of San Francisco, the head of the wine division of Canadian giant Joseph E. Seagram & Sons expressed dismay at what he sees as the government’s increasing intrusion in every part of life in the United States.

“Do people ever have to take responsibility for their own actions?” asked the 35-year-old Bronfman, chief executive of Seagram Classics, Napa Valley’s fourth-largest landowner. “I think they do and should.”

His company’s 11-label prestige marketing stable includes Mumm Champagnes of France, Domaine Mumm of Napa Valley, Sterling Vineyards, Charles Krug, Mirassou, Monterey Vineyard, Bordeaux’s Barton & Guestier, Bandiera and Carmel of Israel.


With a 39% increase in business last year, the company outlook seems rosy. But the picture is clouded by the threat of huge increases in excise taxes and laws to make life tougher for alcoholic beverages.

Distressed Over Koop

In an interview, Bronfman criticized efforts to warn people against real, probable or possible dangers they may encounter in ordinary living.

He pointed to a warning label on some inexpensive butane cigarette lighters, designed in an effort to fend off product liability suits, which advises users the lighter’s flame can cause a fire.


The executive, like every other seller of alcoholic beverages, is distressed over “neo-prohibitionists” and the leadership position of former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, whom Bronfman regards as a “missionary zealot.”

“What do we do with people like Koop, who equate alcohol use with abuse?” Bronfman asked. “We think wine and other beverage alcohols, in moderation, enrich the sensory, intellectual and social experience of life.”

He said his company feels that it’s not alcohol abusers “who listen to people like Koop. (They are) almost always the careful, thoughtful people.”

“In Washington, we always get equated with tobacco,” he added. “We know that any tobacco is bad for you. But that’s not wine.”


Bronfman feels that the issue is far broader than the consequences of drinking too much.

Issue Is ‘Accountability’

“It drives me nuts,” he said with exasperation. “Big Brother is watching. What good is social responsibility in life? Pretty soon, the way society is going, you’re going to have to have a sign over the grocery store . . . that ‘ingesting the contents of this store can be injurious to your health’ . . . that’s the way we’re going.”

“We talk about drinking and driving. Of course people should not drink and drive--never. But does anyone ever suggest banning cars? You can get killed crossing the street. When do you take accountability for your own actions? I think that is what the issue is,” he said.


America seems headed into “a governmental society that dictates what you have to do,” Bronfman said. “Look, I’m against seat belt laws. I believe people should wear their seat belts every day. I do. But I don’t believe you should be mandated to put on your seat belt. I don’t believe we should tell people that they have to wear them.”