Cisco Wine Is Full Of Surprises, Alcohol Officials Says

January 06, 1991|By Huntley J. Cross

I would very much appreciate the opportunity to respond to Marvin Sands, chairman, Canandaigua Wine Co. Inc., and his letter of Dec. 30.

Let me begin by stating that I am in complete agreement with what Sands stated in the last paragraph of his letter: "We believe that public officials are responsible for providing correct, verified information to the public."

I agree wholeheartedly with Sands because that is exactly what I did in regard to Cisco. I provided no blatantly false nor misleading information about the product Cisco.

I am, however, guilty of not providing enough information about Cisco. Sands stated: "We are a responsible company selling a legal product. We strongly support laws prohibiting minors from buying alcoholic beverages. We also support community leaders and concerned citizens in their efforts to control alcohol and drug abuse and to educate people aboutthe dangers of drunk driving."

Let's examine Cisco and the Canandaigua Wine Co.'s responsible position, community support to control alcohol and drug abuse and education of the public in regard to this "legal product."

U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novella said she was concerned that in some states the product (Cisco) can be sold in convenience stores, and is often placed on shelves next to wine coolers, which have about 4 percent alcohol. Ordinary table wines have about 12 percent alcohol content.

Dr. Novello said, "It scared me to death" that people, particularly young people, may buy Cisco unaware that it's far more potent than wine coolers.

The Sept. 24 issue of Time magazine ran an article, "Now, That's a Potent Portable." An excerpt follows:

"Takes you by surprise!" reads the cheery slogan for Cisco, a fruit-flavored beverage produced by New York's Canandaigua winery. The claim rings true, for Cisco's alcohol is 20 percent, almost twice that of most wines and four times that of wine coolers. A growing number of health and consumer groups are asking Canandaigua recall all bottles until the packaging and marketing are revamped. Critics contend that Cisco's screw-top bottles, fruit flavors and availability in many convenience stores create the impression that the product is akin to wine coolers. Canandaigua insists that customers know the difference from a wine cooler because it is more expensive and is soldin individual bottles rather than four-packs. Says a spokesman: "We are producing a legal product, legally produced."

The Institute on Black Chemical Abuse ran an article in its fall 1990 newsletter, "Fortified Wine Masquerades as Wine Cooler." I would like to bring to your attention several points addressed in this article:

* Alcohol and drug policy activists have long been aware of the wide availability of "fortified wines" in low-income neighborhoods. These are the products the alcohol industry has created for the portion of the drinking public most commonly identified with skid row. They provide a high-test, no-nonsense, low-cost drunk.

* Recently, "Mad Dog" and "The Bird" have had to move over a little to make room for a slick new kidon the block, a product called Cisco. The product has been around for years, but (is) now only aggressively marketed primarily in the same low-income areas where the older brands of fortified wines have been popular. The problem: This fortified wine looks and tastes like a wine cooler.

* The manufacturer of Cisco is the Canandaigua Wine Co., which also produces Wild Irish Rose, a fortified wine associated with late-stage alcoholics. Canandaigua purchased Cisco in 1988 and isnow rapidly expanding distribution of the beverage, which used to besold in just a few states.

* Cisco is not advertised on radio or television. Point-of-purchase promotional materials found in stores were found at the Washington press conference. The displays carry the marketing slogan, "Takes You By Surprise." The promotional materials were clearly aimed at a black audience.

Nationally, individuals, groups and organizations are concerned about the dangers of this product and are speaking out to warn consumers and to seek the removal of Cisco from stores. The following are given as examples of the effort:

* Guy Marcotte, the director of Maine's Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages, said that while Cisco "has not yet been presented to to the state of Maine for listing and consequently is not being marketed, I feel certain that we will be approached in the very near future. I am keenly aware of the potential dangers of Cisco and will recommend that it not be marketed."

* The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependance has called for a withdrawal of Cisco from the market.

* The Center of Science in the Public Interest has called for a withdrawal of Cisco from the market.

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