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Promo Tag Alludes to Wine’s Possible Health Benefits

October 23, 1992

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Sante 3/8 Salud 3/8 To your health 3/8

However it’s put, there will now be a tag alluding to the possible health benefits of red wine on bottles sold by a Napa Valley winery.

A week ago, Beringer Vineyards became the first winemaker to win permission from the federal government to hang a may-be-good-for-you tag around its bottles’ necks.

The decision by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Treasury Department agency that enforces regulations concerning the alcoholic beverage industry, was disclosed Wednesday. It came after nearly a year of wrangling with vintners seeking to publicize scientific evidence that moderate wine drinking may reduce the risk of heart disease.

The debate split California’s $6 billion wine industry, with some influential winemakers counseling compromise and others urging a direct court challenge to what they called government censorship.

″This proves that it can be done. That’s the breakthrough,″ said John DeLuca, president of the Wine Institute, a trade group.

″It’s not just a one-time deal,″ he said. ″It sets a foundation to get this kind of information out to the public and to policymakers.″

At stake is the wine industry’s ability to capitalize on scientific studies like those reported in a ″60 Minutes″ segment aired last November and again in July.

Red wine sales have surged since the broadcast, despite complaints that government policy handcuffed wineries trying to relay the information to consumers.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had nixed attempts by two other wineries to link their products to the ″60 Minutes″ broadcast, saying the efforts violated a ban on making misleading curative or therapeutic claims for alcoholic beverages.

The tags that were approved contain excerpts from the ″60 Minutes″ segment - part of an interview with Boston University researcher Curtis Ellison - and no additional commentary.

In the excerpt, Ellison speaks about the possible advantages of moderate red wine drinking. But he also alludes to problems associated with alcohol abuse.

″It gives consumers enough information to make an intelligent choice,″ said bureau spokesman Tom Hill. ″It presents the scientific and medical data in a truthful way ... The words are not presented in a misleading manner.″

Hill said the bureau hadn’t changed its policy and that all future materials would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Beringer president Walter Klenz said the decision was significant because it was the first time the bureau allowed third-party health information to be included in promotional material.

He said the winery would make available 100,000 of the neckhangers next month to its distributors nationwide. All Beringer reds will eventually leave the bottling plant with one of the tags.

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