grape expectations?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

I’m going to ask a straightforward question, and try to keep my own feelings out of the picture for the moment (I’ll happily comment on your comments). For many years, in many newspaper columns and on this blog, I’ve paid close attention to wine marketing trends. Apart from tasting and reviewing wines, visiting vineyards, meeting with winemakers, assessing all that goes into the production of fine wines, I am especially interested in how wines are marketed. What are effective tricks of the trade, and what are merely silly attempts at differentiation in a crowded market?

I’ve written on many occasions about critter wines. In fact, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I was the first person to use the term in print [Seattle Times 8/18/2004].

I’ve written about unusual packaging – cartons and cans, casks and carboys. About “vehicle” wines that try to tie a lifestyle theme into trucks or cars or campers. About wines aimed at specific demographics (Little Black Dress) or that hope to appear hip and radical by using double entendre names (Fat Bastard). But I have not yet written about wines that specialize in bad puns. Chat-en-Oeuf. Pinot Evil. 7 Deadly Zins. And now, the pun-fest seems to be infecting vintners in Oregon and Washington.

In just the past few weeks I’ve come across quite a few real groaners among Washington and Oregon wine offerings. From Springhouse Cellar:

2008 Drawing A Blanc Sauvignon Blanc
2008 Poetry in Merlotion Merlot
2008 Make Cab Not War Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 Sangioplasty Sangiovese

From Tagaris:

2006 Boar Doe Red Wine
2006 Red Roan Red Wine

From Sineann:

2007 Baby Poux Cabernet Sauvignon

...and many, many more. Your thoughts, oh marketing mavens? Do silly puns help or hurt? Should they be reserved only for cheap, tasting room pours? Or do they help to create some sort of desirable image around the winery and take some of the snobbery out of wine?


Anonymous said...

my simple thought is that it seems like it would be great to have fun labels for wine as with labels for beer. some of the beer labels are very cool works of art. hey! why should beer drinkers have all the pun?

Anonymous said...

I honestly don't know where you cross from serious to not serious.
These immediately come to mind where puns and not so serious labels turned into "brilliant marketing":
Dead Horse
Long Haul
Evil Twin
Skull and Bones

I say go with whatever works. You will always be ultimately judged by what's in the bottle. Not what's on the label.

- Charlie

Anonymous said...

99% of the time I will not look twice at a wine with a gimmick name unless I know the winery. As an example of the exception to the rule, Cameron Winery put out a Rose with the name "Pinko" and a picture of Che Guevara on the bottle. But Cameron makes many serious wines and I can count on its less expensive wines to be made well, regardless of the name. If I don't already know the winery, forget it.

Anonymous said...

Hi there-
The boar doe wine isn't really a new Idea:
From the fellow who brought us all 'Goats do Roam.' I think that having a sense of humor is important and if it makes wine a little less stodgy and unapproachable to put a goofy, punny, label on it I think that's ok. It of course doesn't mean that we all have to become total suckers to sell wine but a sense of humor sure doesn't hurt.


Anonymous said...

Somtimes it is to much, look at the bottom shelf in the grocery stores, how many of these bottles have a winery behind it or one you can visit? Cupcake, is that in Napa? Fred Franzia sea of wine, how many labels does he produce? I hear there are Vats the size of Rhode Island full of Washington states bulk wine.....Were will that end up? Merlotman

Anonymous said...

Let's start here......Kaz from Kaz Winery in Sonoma County has so many labels that would be over the top for me, but it fits his personable. That's who is, wild, seems to be crazy but bright, very personable. He has his own radio show in Sonoma. It fits his marketing plan because that's who he is!

I study the market closely and its had to tell. Some tasters love the labels and purchase their wines as they can identify with fun around wine! A lot of other tasters I have been around for years run from these labels, and wait for someone else to purchase a bottle, then wait for their comments of the quality of these wines.

For those you listed; Chat-en-Oeuf, maybe but wouldn't pay very much for it. Pinot Evil, I would have to taste it first because it's a Pinot, but the 7 Deadly Zins I might take the risk but only if the winery had produced quality wines in the past. This may not aid you very much because I've been around wines for a long time, made wines for years and have worked at a couple of wineries.

I just had a 26 year old male, has been consuming wines for 4 years, who just stopped by to taste. I asked him your questions, and he made a statement that he has friends that have been consuming wines for a couple of years, will purchase a wine because of its label. If they like it they will stick with that label.

I do believe a lot of younger tasters would purchase these wines with artsy wine labels with anomalous names but from my experience they jump around a lot. I realize this interdicts what the 26 year old stated to me.

I will be putting out a couple of wines next year from the 2010 vintage that will have a unique label but containing art but not artsy. Maybe I'm behind the times but it still comes down to, what's in the bottle for me.


Paul said...

Have to agree- if I don't know the winery, a goofy label is an immediate "no".

PaulG said...

So far I'd say it's a zero sum game. In other words, there is no particular harm nor gain to be had by coming up with these oddball names. I would agree – it's not a bad thing, although as a veteran and inveterate punster I can tell you there are certainly plenty of bad puns out there, and I'm hard-pressed to work up any enthusiasm for swallowing a wine called Pinot Evil, though it's a decent pun.

Andy Plymale said...

The folks at Kestrel had pretty good luck with "Lady in Red" -- really was a game changer for them, and was just the results of a community college school project.

FYI, I'm opening a winery with my friends Lee and Eddy, and am going to put their names on the bottle.

PaulG said...

Andy - "Lee & Eddy" wine you say? I think Chris & Gary might have an objection or two...

grapemaster said...

if a wine needs a gimmicky label, well, that proves there's more to the outside of the bottle than what's inside.
one of the canons of wine is:
"If there is an animal on the label, the wine is intended for or made by that animal."

Anonymous said...

My students are interested in this topic, too. Here's a link to a post I wrote about their research, including an analysis of "Bitch" Shiraz.

Anonymous said...

There are also millions of wines out there with "classy" labels that evoke pristine natural landscapes, with fonts stolen from medieval manuscripts and names that sound like soft core porn titles...and the wines are crap. I think the size of the winery (and pressure to move inventory)affects label decisions as much as anything.

denise said...

I think if it fits the brand profile - then it's fine to play with the pun in cheek label. It's got to work with the overall position of wine brand. I'm all for using humour - but of course this is coming from a woman who used to be in the funny underwear business (Joe Boxer) and humor was what we sold....the underwear was of excellent quality, but it was a commodity product meant to be used everyday! I think this is the strategy behind some of the wine brands that use humor and cool / clever graphic design. It's more about entertaining and everyday consumption - but is that really so awful, as long as you do it well? (Think Colbert vs. Leno) BTW - I am thinking of introducing a great wine label that would ONLY be available to try in the tasting room - and so exclusive that you can only buy it there. It's called "Hip-du-Spit".

Gaill Puryear said...

My favorite is from the early 80's. The wine was so bad it would not sell at any price. So, it was labeled 'Joe Stalin Red, a harsh uncompromising wine.'
It sold out immediately.
I have a label in my label collection.

PaulG said...

Gail, I think treating most of these wines as collectibles rather than drinkables is a pretty good strategy!

Anonymous said...

there have been times when peter would take a bottle of his unlabeled wine to a party, but, he would stick on a bit of masking tape on the bottle and write "SWILL" on it. the people that found out that he brought it, drank it.

it shows that labels make a difference to those that do not know what is in the bottle.

it also shows that words and the sound of words make a big difference, a label appears and speaks to the consumer makes a difference.

if a person knows the about the winemaker and the wine, then the consumer is proactive and cares about what they drink. they are usually people that want to learn about wine and make consuming and sharing enjoyable wine part of their way of life.

PaulG said...

Nancy, great story! Of course Peter's (and Sineann's) quality reputation is impeccable and unchallenged. I included Baby Poux in the bad pun honor roll because it is a truly delicious pun, as well as wine. At first, much as with Mark Ryan's 'Dead Horse', I thought it a bit off-base. But I've grown fond of both.

BLT said...

Good subject! It depends on my mood and whether I am willing to take a flyer on a wine, or not.

Most of the time I treat it like what has been said previously; it depends on the winery or winemaker. Without label recognition I treat it like foreign wines and rely on who is the importer.

Anonymous said...

Merlotion - LOL! Sounds like something you'd buy at Bath & Body Works.

Tilman said...

About 10 years ago (before cutesy/funny/off-colour labels were common) a wine popped onto the scene called "Stu Pedasso", with a faux appellation of "Sonoma Beach".

Most of the time, the humour comes across as gimicky and forced. Unless, of course, it's integrated into a smart marketing campaign, and carried off with a degree of class or intelligence. If all the label does is make you guffaw once, and there's nothing more behind it, it won't last in the consumer's mind.

Having said that, I'm a big fan of a bit of irreverence and lightheartedness in branding and marketing. Randall Grahm's efforts at Bonny Doon come to mind as great examples. You just have to be careful -- much humour is in the eye of the beholder.

Tilman Hainle

Art said...

Even as a snobbish sexagenarian who's serious about the swill he sips, I still wear Bonny Doon t-shirts celebrating Critique of Pure Riesling and Cardinal Zin. If we're just talking about labels, marketing, and wine puns, Randall Grahm's genius and mastery makes pretty much everything else look silly indeed.

Judy Phelps said...

There is an old marketing stanza that says "better to be talked about than not talked about". I don't see any blog post on boring winery names out there.

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