What’s In A Wine Name, Anyway?
Midwest wine producers face a branding dilemma. Should they market their wine using the correct varietal name such as Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc or other varietal names unknown to most consumers? Or use ‘brand names” like Shawnee Gold, Dawg House Red, or Ship of Fools? Just about any marketing department will emphatically respond that ‘branding” is the way to go. And, it may be in the short term; however, familiarizing our customers with the true grape names may be best in the long run.
Many Midwest wineries make a wide variety of wines from a variety of varietal and hybrid grapes. While just about every consumer knows that Chardonnay is a white wine, the vast majority of them don’t have a clue that Marquette isn’t only a city in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As Dr. Paolo Sabbatini of Michigan State University said at the Michigan Wine Conference in February, Marquette is ‘a great wine maker’s grape.” But does the wine drinker care about the grape name so long as the wine tastes good?
Brianna is a cold climate white grape variety created by the late Elmer Swenson, the Godfather of cold climate grapes. This grape’s tropical fruit flavors provide hints of pineapple and pear, well suited for the consumer who enjoys that flavor profile in their oaky California Chardonnay. Do they want to know what grape produced the wine they’re enjoying? The answer is a definitive yes, and, no!
Is it our job to educate our customers about the wines they’re enjoying? Justin Osborne, winemaker at Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery in Minnesota, says that it’s incumbent on producers to teach wine drinkers about the wines they like. As Justin puts it, ‘wineries using hybrid grapes really need to use the name of the grape on the label, without a doubt.” His perspective is that, by using the correct grape name on the label we’re ‘helping educate them (consumers) as part of our service.”
Many Midwest wine drinkers are very curious about what they’re drinking. They want to know what grapes are used to make the wine, where the grapes are sourced, if they are aged in oak or stainless steel, for how long, etc., you get the idea! Others don’t give a hoot about the juice in the bottle as long as it tastes good. They couldn’t care less if the wine is made from a blend of Niagara, Chardonel, Norton and Seyval Blanc! (How would that taste?!)
Julie Harvey of Alto Vineyards in Illinois believes that ‘winemaking is an art.” If the artist/winemaker wants to use names for their wines, why not? Artists name their paintings, don’t they?” Alto Vineyards markets their wines using both grape names and ‘brands” like Shawnee Gold and Porto di Guido. They found that sales of their Villard Blanc soared when they changed the name to Doghouse White. Same juice, different name, vastly different sales, go figure!
Chris Lawlor of Galena Cellars, also in Illinois, uses a variety of labels to market their wines. Some have a ‘brand” name only, some use the grape name and others display both the grape and a ‘brand” name. Their Niagara wine simply states ‘Niagara Grape Wine”.
The question of what to call the product in the bottle has no easy or simple answer. As the song goes, ‘different strokes for different folks.” While some wineries are purists in that they will only use the correct grape name(s), others will use whatever brand sells the most product. For consumers and producers alike, perhaps the best bet is a combination of the two schools of thought, a catchy name on the front label and naming the grapes on the back label. What do you think?
©2012 Wine Counselor LLC
Michael Schafer Esq., The Wine Counselor®, is a wine educator, speaker, Sommelier, C.S.W., writer and consultant who entertains while educating. His approach to wine is reflected in his trademark phrase, ‘I taste bad wine so you don’t have to”®
For more information see: www.winecounselor.net