Who is Big Wine in Germany and what are they up to?
Lobbypedia has released a report about the German wine lobby, exposing how the wine industry interferes against lives saving alcohol policy in Germany, how much they spend on their political interference activities, how the wine lobby is structured, and how they mislead, deceive, and lie about the health harm of wine.
Lobbypedia is an initiative by Lobby Control.
Movendi International has translated the report and curated the content for an international audience.

The Lobbypedia report exposing the German wine industry and their front groups is a shocker. The report exposes a network of front groups and organizations geared to deceive the public and political leaders about the harms linked to wine, and set up to interfere in alcohol policy making processes in Germany and the EU, while also taking public money from the German government for wine promotion. The report contains an extensive list of references.

Movendi International has translated the report and curated it for an international audience, making minor adjustments for translation, explanation, and clarity reasons. Movendi International has also added graphic elements to the story below to highlight key findings.

This story is part of Movendi International’s work with the Big Alcohol Exposed initiative – to monitor, document, and expose the harmful practices of the alcohol industry and to help protect policy-making processes from alcohol industry interference. As the Lobbypedia report shows, this work is very much needed in Germany, where the wine industry has captured key institutions.

This report is an excellent example to understand who Big Wine is in Germany and beyond and how the wine industry operates undermining awareness of alcohol harm and action for lives saving alcohol policies.

Introduction: The German Wine Growers Association

The German Wine Growers Association (Deutsche Weinbauverband e.V., DWV) is a powerful lobby association for German wine producers.

Remarkably, the DWV runs the German Wine Academy together with the state-controlled German Wine Institute. The German Wine Institute spreads the scientifically outdated claim in politics, science, medicine and society at large that regular (red) wine consumption is overall beneficial to health. In addition, the German wine industry maintains close contacts in politics, for example through the Parliamentary Wine Forum.

Objectives and summary

The statutory objectives of the German Wine Growers Association (Deutsche Weinbauverband e.V., DWV) are to represent the “overall interests of its members towards international and national institutions” and “to promote the sales of German wine to the best of our ability”. In early 2019, Christian Schwörer became the managing director and general secretary of the DWV.

Lobby expenditures and members

In the German lobby register, the German Wine Growers Association stated that it would spend between €25,000 and €26,000 on lobbying in 2022 and employ two lobbyists.

In the European lobby register, the German Wine Growers Association has also stated lobbying expenses of between €100,000 and €200,000 for 2022 and that it employs 3 lobbyists who devote 1.5 full-time equivalents to lobbying work.

German wine lobby spending on political interference, 2022
In Germany and the EU, the German Wine Growers Association spend €226,000 in lobbying on behalf of the wine industry. They employ 5 lobbyists for their corporate political activity in Germany and the EU.

The German Wine Growers Association had over €700,000 at its disposal in 2022, most of which came from membership fees. The German Wine Growers Association has a total of 25 members, the majority of which are regional wine growing associations.

The German Wine Growers Association itself is a member of 7 organizations, such as:

  • European agricultural lobby association COPA-COGECA,
  • Global trade federation for the wine, beer, and liquor industry FIVS,
  • European front group of the wine industry and translational wine companies Wine in Moderation, and
  • German Farmers’ Association.

Internal conflict and loss of members and membership fees

According to its own information, the German Wine Growers Association works particularly closely with the German Farmers’ Association. In 2021 there were disputes within the association, as a result of which the German Raiffeisen Association, a representative of cooperative wine companies, and the Franconian Winegrowers Association left. As a result, the German Wine Growers Association lost 25% of German wine production and a similarly high proportion of membership fees.

Network of deception: Interconnections with the Wine Fund, Wine Institute and Wine Academy

The German Wine Growers Association is closely linked to the German Wine Fund, the German Wine Institute, and the German Wine Academy.

The German Wine Fund was founded in 1961 with the “Wine Act” as an institution under public law in order to “consolidate the competitiveness [of German wine] against the large wine-growing countries France and Italy.”

Legally, the German Wine Fund (Deutscher Weinfond, DWF) is subordinate to the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, but is primarily financed by legally stipulated membership fees from wine producers.

In addition, the federal government supports further sales promotion measures with 2 million Euros annually.

2 Million
Public money for wine sales promotion
The German Federal Government spends €2 Million of public money on wine sales promotion.

The close personal ties between the German Wine Growers Association and the German Wine Fund can be clearly seen when comparing the composition of the German Wine Fund Board of Directors and the German Wine Growers Association Presidium: Three out of six members of the German Wine Growers Association Presidium sit on the German Wine Fund Administrative Board, two of whom also sit on the Supervisory Board. In addition, the President of the German Wine Growers Association Klaus Schneider also has the chairmanship of the German Wine Fund’s board of directors.

The executive body of the German Wine Fund is the German Wine Institute (Deutsche Weininstitut, DWI), which is the “central communications and marketing organization of the German wine industry”.

In addition, the German Wine Academy was founded in 1977, which, according to its own statement, deals with the “scientific aspects of the main topics of wine and health as well as wine and society”.

German Wine Institute

The German Wine Institute (Deutsche Weininstitut, DWI) is the “central communications and marketing organization of the German wine industry” and, as a GmbH (an entity broadly equivalent to the private limited company in the United Kingdom, according to Wikipedia), supports the German Wine Fund in fulfilling its legal tasks. Its main task is to “promote the quality and sales of wines from the 13 German wine-growing regions through competitively neutral marketing measures at home and abroad.”

Measures are market research, export advice, image campaigns at home and abroad, press and and public relations work, as well as holding events and training courses.

The German Wine Institute currently operates foreign offices in 12 export markets to promote sales of German wine abroad.

The German Wine Institute organizes the election and award of the German Wine Queen every year. Since 1949/50, a wine queen and two wine princesses have been chosen every year to carry out representative tasks at home and abroad.

Julia Klöckner, Federal Minister of Agriculture and Food from 2018 to 2021, was also elected German Wine Queen in 1995.

The election event including the preliminary decision, selection process with speech and wine tasting, and portraits of the candidates is usually broadcast on the regional public broadcaster SWR.

German Wine Academy

The German Wine Academy (Deutsche Weinakademie, DWA) is a joint venture of the German wine industry, which is intended to deal with the topics of wine, enjoyment, lifestyle, culture, health and society on the basis of reliable, scientific findings. In addition, the German Wine Academy is responsible for the implementation of the “Wine in Moderation” Corporate Social Responsibility program of the European wine industry in Germany, “which presents the health benefits of moderate wine consumption as well as the potential dangers of excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages.”

The German Wine Academy provides the majority of the financial resources for the German Wine Academy through the German Wine Fund.

The shareholders of the German Wine Academy are the German Wine Institute, the German Winegrowers Association as well as the Federal Association of German Wine Cellars and the German Raiffeisen Association. The shareholders, all representatives of the wine industry, appoint the voluntary scientific advisory board, which advises the German Wine Academy in particular on questions about the health effects of wine. Nevertheless, the German Wine Academy postulates the independence of the Scientific Advisory Board.

A look at the biographies and backgrounds of the members of the scientific advisory board shows that many members have either been associated with the wine industry for years or have long commented positively on the health effects of alcohol, for example in scientific publications.

  • Rudolf Nickenig headed the German Wine Growers Association as managing director and general secretary for over 30 years until 2018 and is a co-founder of the scientific advisory board.
  • Monika Christmann is considered an “international great” in the wine world and was President of the International Organization for Vine and Wine, the Wine Association, for three years from 2015.
    • Her main job is professor and head of the Institute of Oenology at Geissenheim University.
  • Kristian Rett is chairman of the scientific advisory board and a specialist in internal medicine, endocrinology and diabetology.
    • He was a speaker at the “Lifestyle, Diet, Wine, Health” congress in October 2023, which was predominantly sponsored by representatives of the European wine industry, including the German Wine Growers Association. He is also President of the Obesity Foundation Germany – remarkably, Big Tobacco is one of the “partners” of this foundation.
  • Nicolai Worm is a member of the European wine industry campaign “Wine in Moderation”, author of the 1996 book “Daily Wine [Täglich Wein]. Live healthier with wine and a Mediterranean diet.”
    • In 2022, he questioned the well-documented connection between alcohol consumption and cancer. He was also a speaker at the “Lifestyle, Diet, Wine, Health” congress in October 2023, which was predominantly sponsored by representatives of the European wine industry, including the German Wine Growers Association.
  • Angelika Paschke-Kratzin is a research assistant at the Institute of Food Chemistry at the University of Hamburg. She particularly researches food allergens.
  • Markus Felsch is deputy chairman of the scientific advisory board.
    • In 2021, he organized a certified medical training course as part of a “Wine in Moderation” event, which was intended to provide information about the health benefits of wine during several wine tastings.
    • His main job is as chief physician for internal medicine and cardiology at the Marienklinik Soest.
  • Doris Rauhut is professor and deputy head of the Institute for Microbiology and Biochemistry at Hochschule Geisenheim University.
    • This university trained one of the “German Wine Queens”.
    • The Royal Prussian College for Fruit and Wine Growing was founded by Baron Eduard von Lade in Geisenheim in 1872, and became the “Hochschule Geisenheim University” on January 1, 2013.
  • Gerald Klose is a specialist in internal medicine and gastroenterology. He completed his habilitation in 1980 at the Medical Faculty of Heidelberg University.

Misleading arguments about the health benefits of wine

The German Wine Academy’s scientific advisory board postulates on the website and in other publications the claim that wine consumption in “moderate” quantities, has various health-promoting effects: the central claim of the German Wine Academy is that people with “moderate” alcohol consumption have reduced mortality compared to the comparison group of people who abstain from alcohol.

What is moderation according to German wine industry?

The German Wine Academy defines “moderate” alcohol consumption as up to 350 ml of 11% wine for men and 250 ml of wine for women per day.

This relationship is known in research as the J-curve, but is highly controversial.

Many scientists criticize that people who abstain from alcohol are not suitable as a comparison group because their abstinence from alcohol is often due to previous health conditions or previous alcohol use disorder and addiction, which is why their increased mortality is due to other risk factors – the sick-quitter effect.

For example, a landmark study in 2024 found that over 70% of systematic reviews and meta-analyses published to March 2022 of all-cause mortality risk associated with alcohol consumption did not exclude former alcohol users from the reference group and may therefore be biased by the ‘sick-quitter effect’.

Biased results in global systematic reviews on alcohol health harms since 1993
More than 70% of global systematic reviews on alcohol health harms since 1993 used non-alcohol users as the comparator to people who consume any alcohol, which can cause biased results – the sick-quitter effect.

This new research shows that alcohol may cause more deaths than previously thought, as evidence reviews over the past 30 years have underestimated the number of deaths caused by alcohol due to an issue called the ‘sick-quitter effect’. 

There is also evidence that people with moderate alcohol consumption lead a healthier lifestyle overall.

The German Wine Academy claims a variety of positive effects of wine consumption on health were the reason for the reduced mortality with “moderate” alcohol consumption. They claim “moderate” alcohol use would reduce the rate of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks or ischemic strokes, as well as the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In the context of cardiovascular diseases, the substance resveratrol, which is found in fruit peels and therefore particularly in (red) wine, is said to have a vascular and heart-protecting effect. However, there are considerable doubts about the evidence base: on the one hand, a well-known researcher in this field was accused of falsifying research data, and on the other hand, other studies were not able to demonstrate a significant effect.

According to the yearbook Addiction 2022 from the German Center for Addiction Questions (Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen, DHS), a researcher calculated that a person would have to drink 50 liters of wine a day in order to consume an amount of resveratrol that would generate a health effect.

The German Wine Academy also casts doubts over the scientifically clearly proven connection between alcohol and cancer, which has already been proven for small amounts consumed.

Furthermore, the German Wine Academy claims additional alleged connections between alcohol (including wine) and health benefits: People who consume alcohol “moderately” are claimed to have less kidney disease and a lower risk of obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and dementia.

Although detailed questions about the individual mechanisms of the effects of alcohol (including wine) on the body and health are discussed in science, the current state of research is clear and unimpeachable: there is no doubt that wine as an alcoholic drink is harmful to health and that there is no safe or healthy amount of alcohol consumption.

Commercial advertising claiming that wine has health benefits

In addition to the German Wine Fund as a full member, the German Wine Academy is also an associated member of the Central Association of the German Advertising Industry (Zentralverband der deutschen Werbewirtschaft, ZAW) – where they wine industry joins forces with the German beer and liquor industry, as well as the pharma and tobacco industries.

In a voluntary commitment “on commercial communication for alcoholic beverages”, the Central Association of the German Advertising Industry has committed itself not to “make any statements about the elimination, alleviation or prevention of diseases” in its commercial communication. Even though the German Wine Academy’s publications may not be commercial communication in the strict sense, the German Wine Academy aggressively propagates the thesis that the consumption of alcohol and especially wine in “moderate” quantities is associated with more health benefits than disadvantages. This contradicts the voluntary commitment of the Central Association of the German Advertising Industry.

In addition to offering information on its own website, the German Wine Academy also strives to communicate its content and messages in other ways.

For example in early 2023, Nathalie Stüben, author and activist on the subject of alcohol addiction, exposed that the German Wine Academy was sponsoring the content and event documents for an official medical training course on the subject of “alcohol and cancer”.

The medical journal with the highest circulation, “Der Kassenarzt”, is regularly accompanied by the free magazine “Vinomed”, which is published by the German Wine Academy.

In the June 2022 issue, wine consumption (20g/day) is associated with reduced mortality. Nicolai Worm, member of the German Wine Academy’s Scientific Advisory Board, concludes in a two-page article that “light to moderate wine consumption with meals as part of a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer as well as overall mortality.”

The scientific consensus that even small amounts of alcohol carries health risks has emerged since the 2010s. The German Wine Academy actively attacks this consensus and postulates: “Not only are the scientific results on alcoholic beverages and health (J-curve) being negated, but the scientists are also being discredited personally. […] For the German Wine Academy advisory board, the massive reservations against organizations and scientists who advocate an objective, correct, non-ideological approach to the effects of wine on health are unacceptable.”

Parliamentary Wine Forum

The Parliamentary Wine Forum was founded in 2003 by various members of the Bundestag, the German parliament, including the former wine queen and CDU member Julia Klöckner and the FDP politician Volker Wissing (currently the Federal Minister of Digital Affairs and Transport of Germany).

According to its own statements, the German Wine Institute supports the work of the forum, but what form of support this is is not specified.

The aim of the Parliamentary Wine Forum is to “promote wine culture in Germany and to sensitize members of the German Bundestag to current problems and challenges in the German wine industry.” The Wine Forum also aims to promote the serving of German wines in public institutions and to increase on ceremonial occasions. This effort proved to be successful; according to its own statements, the German Wine Institute has been supporting the Foreign Office “in the selection of wines for many years,” so that “German wines are also served in German consulates and embassies around the world”. The same applies to other official occasions, in the Bundestag restaurant and in the “Parliamentary Society”.

The Parliamentary Wine Forum is a central platform for exchange between the wine industry and members of the German Bundestag and other politicians. Not only Members of Parliament are invited, but also responsible department heads from the federal ministries, parliamentary state secretaries, committee members and the then federal government drug commissioner.

The wine forum already worked with the German Wine Institute in 2003. The then managing director of the German Wine Institute came to Berlin specifically “to introduce the parliamentarians to the small school of wine tasting with various white and red wines.” The German Wine Academy also came along through the “Wine in Moderation” industry campaign for which it was responsible in the forum. The German Viticulture Association is also in “constant dialogue” with the Parliamentary Wine Forum.

The effect of the Parliamentary Wine Forum as a platform for political interference was summed up by founding member Gustav Herzog when, in 2017, he expressed satisfied “that all of the Bundestag’s wine policy decisions since the forum was founded had been unanimous.”

German Wine Growers Association repeatedly with Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture Cem Özdemir and expects him to defend their interests also in Brussels

For further reading

Twelve resource articles about Big Wine and their harmful products and practices.

Human rights abuses of wine industry

An Oxfam report from September 2021 exposed the human rights abuses of the wine industry in Italy, one of the biggest wine exporters in the world. 

Among the most serious human rights violations are forced labor, low wages, excessive working hours, health and safety risks in vineyards and wineries, and lack of access to remedial action. Big Wine has an appalling track record of Human Rights abuses.

Special Feature: Big Wine Attacks European Cancer Prevention Efforts

This special feature is dedicated Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and a European Parliament vote that did everything Big Alcohol asked for to undermine cancer prevention in Europe.

Long-Term Societal Trends That Trouble Big Wine

Growing awareness of and concern about health harm caused by alcohol (including wine), changing alcohol norms, and the human rights abuses of the wine industry are all factors that drive long-term societal trends that trouble Big Wine.

About the sick-quitter effect

The ‘sick quitter effect’ is when people with compromised health due to previous alcohol use behaviours appear in health data as non-alcohol users, when in fact they are ex-alcohol users with health problems due to alcohol use. When a study compares to this group of people, it can falsely make the harms of alcohol consumption appear smaller or non-existent, or even make it seem like consuming small quantities of alcohol protects against harms. 

Dr Sarich said that of the 30% of reviews that were not affected by the ‘sick-quitter’ issue, only one was considered a high-quality review, and found that the risk of death increases with increasing alcohol intake, with no evidence of any protective effects for low-level alcohol use. All of the remaining reviews may have understated the health harms of alcohol. 

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