• Brian Allen, CFP®

The strange truth about wine and retirement plans

This article was originally contributed in InvestmentNews RPA Convergence website on May 14, 2021.


I’ve Ioved retirement plan management for nearly three decades. But my new passion is wine. It started several years ago when a good friend asked me, my wife and another couple to go to Napa, Calif. with him and his wife. Four days and many tastings later, I had the bug.


When you get into wine, you discover that making it is a combination of science and art and that there are thousands of different grape varieties used by wineries across the globe. Napa Valley alone has over 500 different wineries. As a result — and here is the tie-in to retirement plans — consumers often turn to wine critics (I’ll call them advisers) to guide them in their purchases.


Many critics — ahem, advisers — rate wines on a scale from one to 100 to make it easier for the consumer to compare. A high score from one influential adviser can change market demand and, ultimately, the price of a wine. Wine producers covet high scores.


As you can guess, wine producers are willing to help these advisers in any way possible. They might say, “Let us pay you for your time,” or, “Be our guest on a trip to our winery, complete with nice accommodations.” They might offer to sponsor a conference or advertise in a newsletter.


“We’re in this together,” they tell advisers.


Sound familiar?


It turns out that the wine industry and retirement plan advice industry have something in common – there are suppliers who want to influence advisers. And importantly, consumers usually are unaware of the dynamic.


That is why a post by acclaimed wine critic Jeb Dunnuck caught my eye. His “A word on our ethics policy” reads:


“First, it is vitally important for a critic to be completely independent. For the past 14 years as a professional reviewer, I have covered every flight, hotel and method of transportation required for reviewing wine and have always paid my own way.”


His company is funded by subscribers – not advertisers – and does not accept gifts or accommodations. He also states that none of the company’s reviewers will be involved in sales of wine to the public.


“Suffice to say, getting paid by a region or an importer to taste wines violates every hint of independence and basically puts a reviewer or publication on the payroll of the trade,” the post reads.


I encourage you to read the statement.


I suspect that many well-known wine critics don’t follow the same policy. But, let me ask you, who would you trust to advise you on wine? I subscribe to Jeb Dunnuck.


Investment firms, broker-dealers, record keepers, suppliers of financial products and even many advisers would have you believe that it’s always been this way and it always will be. It’s a losing battle to fight the system, and “don’t be naïve,” they say.


But I don’t think that way. For as much as I like wine, putting people on track for retirement is much more important than a nice glass of cabernet sauvignon. I believe the future belongs to independent advisers.