What Should We Call Wines That Are Not From Warm Places?
Last year, I wrote about David Taub whose main claim to fame was changing the name of an Italian wine from ‘Cantini Viticoltori del Trentino” to ‘Cavit” during the 70’s, thereby creating a market for Pinot Grigio in the United States. The Californians pulled off a similar marketing coup around the same time by replacing the confusing French AOC wine names with varietal names.
These examples underscore the importance of wine names and naming conventions. Identifiable varietal names and classifications are a critical factor for consumers making retail wine purchase decisions.
Which brings us to the name that is routinely used to describe hybrid wines produced in the Midwest: “Cold Climate.” (The word “hybrid” also has issues which will be addressed later in this article.)
I have yet to speak with anyone who is enthusiastic about this name. That’s probably because “cold climate” has no wine connotations or associations. Have you ever heard of a “warm climate” wine?
When the word “wine” is tacked on to “cold climate,” it takes on a dispassionate and clinical tone. “Cold climate wine” sounds like something created in a laboratory, not hand crafted by vignerons and winemakers.
Also, hybrid grapes are being grown in the Pacific Northwest for reasons not limited to cold tolerance. Implying that hybrid grapes are only for cold climates is not entirely true. Plus the name ignores huge potential markets for new types of wines.
So what’s a better name for hybrid wine grapes grown in places where it gets cold in the winter or where people prefer not to grow vinifera?
John Marshall with Great River Vineyard in Minnesota uses the term “cold hardy,” which deserves consideration.
“Hardy” has several definitions and connotations that make it well suited to wine. The first synonym in my dictionary after “hardy” is “robust.” What could be a more perfect descriptor for our wines?
The second meaning of “hardy” is “courageous” and “intrepid.” (Anyone who grows grapes in the upper Midwest has to be courageous and intrepid.)
An, of course, there’s the definition of “hardy” that I think John had most in mind: Capable of surviving unfavorable conditions.
Another benefit of calling our Northern Hybrids “cold hardy” is that the nice people from the primary wine producing area in the U.S. are generally viewed as being a little soft. In contrast, hybrid winegrowers are hardy people making quality wines in challenging conditions.
The University of Minnesota also now sometimes uses “cold hardy” to describe their wine grapes. However, the University’s website homepage currently has only the simple headline “Grapes,” as if they’re trying to think of something better, but have not succeeded yet.
I’ve noticed that some people use the term “cold climate” to describe the popular University of Minnesota grapes. This seems like speaking in code. Consumers don’t like illusory wine names, as demonstrated by the problems with the AOC. To build name recognition, The University of Minnesota grapes should be called by their varietal names only.
A term I like is “New American Viticulture.” I believe this term was coined by Bill Shoemaker, formerly of the University of Illinois and now the Northern Illinois Viticulturist for the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association. However, New American Viticulture is better suited for the industry. “Viticulture” does not exactly roll off the tongue, plus it’s too technical a word for consumer applications.
Whenever I try to come up with catch phrases for our new wines, my mind keeps going back to clichéd references involving the purity of snow and ice. These “ice purity” metaphors are used over and over by the beverage industry (e.g.; Coors Light Beer, Crystal Light powdered beverage, Crystal Vodka and all the pale lager Ice Beers, etc., etc.) The word “ice” has been used so much, it’s worn out.
And then there is the word “hybrid.” From a gustatory standpoint, one would have to work hard to come up with a word less appealing than”hybrid.” (Even “heterogeneous” is better than “hybrid.”) To consumers, “hybrid” implies that the grapes have been unnaturally modified, which of course is not the case.
Kenton Erwin, an Oregon grower of grapes that have mixed genetics, suggests calling hybrids “modern varieties.” I like Kenton’s moniker. It conveys the forward thinking spirit of non-traditional wine growers and could be appealing to a new generation of wine drinkers seeking something new.
Having a name that ties together cold hardy, hybrid grapes would be a big step forward in building consumer acceptance for the excellent new wines from our region. I would love to hear some ideas from Midwest Wine Press readers.