A wee whine about wine

It astounds me that it’s taking so long for so many French wine makers to understand the marketing power of good labels — labels that are not only attractive but are designed to communicate what consumers actually care about.

For many wine makers here, the front label of a bottle is a great place for a picture of a château that you’ve never heard of, plus the year of the wine’s vintage. On the back label — if there is one — there is often some impenetrable prose about the proud history of the vineyard and the wine-making family.

For example: “Château EauMyGawd has been in the Montrellier family since 1752, and today continues the proud tradition of respecting the terroir while upholding the values of honour, character and respect for tradition, instilled in us by Duc Montrellier from the beginning.” Nothing about the wine, how it was made, what it’s made of, or what to do with it.

When I read these labels, I’m reminded of the words of Michael Barkway, a pioneer in Canadian financial journalism and one of my mentors when I was the young News Editor at Financial Times of Canada in Montreal. As Publisher of our weekly paper, he would occasionally offer this scathing critique of some of the articles we published: “Too much talky-talky, not enough nitty-gritty.”

I’m offering a couple of photos that illustrate both sides of the issue. First we have the front label of a bottle of Lalande de Pomerol that I ordered a few days ago, when my wife Jan and I were lunching at La Petite Tonnelle in Beynac. (Lalande de Pomerol is an Appellation d’Origine Controlée for red wines that are made north of the Pomerol district in the Bordeaux region.)

As you can see, it’s not particularly attractive — the colours are blah, the typefaces look like something that would have been designed in the early 1990s, and the illustration of the old château doesn’t add much. So the label is too old-looking to be called modern or sophisticated, and too new-looking to be considered a classic. On the plus side, at least we learn that it’s a 2011 vintage.

On the front, it's only slightly attractive.

On the front, it’s only slightly attractive.

And now we come to the back label, which in this case turns out to be the good side. In large type, we learn that the wine was made from 100% Merlot grapes — so you can at least surmise that it won’t be too tannic, will have some nice red-fruit flavours, and will go well with food (which it did, by the way).  But there’s lots more.

In a nice, chunky collection of short statements, we learn the wine’s provenance (it’s from young vines at the Château Siaurac); its élevage (it spent nine months in vats); and its personnalité (round and fruity). We’re also told it can be drunk immediately, or kept for drinking over the next three to five years; and that it goes well with both casual and gourmet cuisine. We’re even told that it’s nice to drink in the summer if it’s lightly chilled. Of course there has to be some philosophie, but it’s at least short and sweet: “Believe in the earth, respect its future.”

On the back label, all becomes clear.

On the back label, all becomes clear.

And then, miracle of miracle, it gives all that information again in English.

I’m not saying you should rush out and buy this wine (although it wouldn’t be a mistake), but I do think that an awful lot of French wine makers would do well to follow this example, and get some marketing value from the labels they slap on their products.

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This entry was posted in French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Wine and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A wee whine about wine

  1. Paul says:

    Well said, Loren. I think French winemakers have gotten used to the assumption that if they put “Chateau” and “Appellation” on the front of the bottle, people’s hands will involuntarily plunge into their pockets and they’ll shell out whatever they charge.

    On this side of the Atlantic, the marketing has gone in a whole different direction; winemakers compete to see who can come up with the nuttiest name and picture to stick on the bottle in the hopes of luring in people who don’t really like wine. So you can buy a wine called Cat’s Pee and another called Girl’s Night Out, along with that old standby, Goats Do Roam.

    Best not to take it all too seriously. I pass on this quote from Dave Barry: “Without question the greatest invention in the history of mankind is wine. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”

  2. Lesley says:

    And you don’t have to share it with pregnant women on their telephone!
    You are right about the info. required and would only add that we like to know the % alcohol.

  3. John says:

    Loren. You and Paul make goods points. The French have long resisted listing the grape variety but I read the EU will soon force that. The place we are now (Piaugier) staying meet all your tests of bad labeling. But, they created the brand in 1995 and have built a 150 000 bottle business. At lunch yesterday in Ouzès we had a lovely Chardonnay with unusual front and back labels. I’ll send photos. My friend in Carnoules uses artwork on his labels and asks customers to vote on them. Some of the labels from the ‘new’ world are just goofy.

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