Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Varietal labelling - some clarifications (Varietals: 3)

Peter May, of the Pinotage Club and also the author of a site and book about wine labels that is definitely worth checking out, made some comments on my pet subject which I thought I ought to post here to clarify a few points.

You can read his comments on my posts on varietal labelling here. In response, I would say:

First of all, I have nothing against listing the varietal make up of a wine. Whether this should be 85% or 100% of the wine is open for debate but it isn't the fact that it is listed, but rather that the wine packaging focuses too heavily on this one element to speak to the consumer.

Second, with regard to the "flaw in the argument", I would have to disagree. It is EXACTLY because Stellenbosch, Napa and Margaret River cannot be linked to one style that I argue that the old world countries SHOULD do more to focus on regions. Although this is often regarded as negative, this could be a positive thing. A (protected) regional name is unique, uncopyable, defensible. However, it must be made to be meaningful through proper quality systems and common agreement otherwise it will be eroded.

If, as many believe and you seem to agree, the right (or even best?) varieties are planted in such regions, then there is no need to change the product itself, but maybe focus on the other elements, especially communication. They may not have done it well to date, but that is not in itself a reason not to do it.

I agree that my points were made with a very "old world" view of the world, and you rightly point out that the same argument does not necessarily transfer to New World regions. However, there are many regions of the world that are trying to replicate this model, so there is a future for it. Hunter Semillon? Barossa Shiraz? These regions do try and associate style with the regional name.

Let me make it clear that I am not advocating removing the varietal information from labels. I just think that marketers should be willing to consider relegating it a little further down the order of importance. The current mantra in the industry seems to be "varietal above all else" and I'm only trying to raise a possible counter argument.

I may, of course, be totally wrong.

Isn't that the wonderful thing about blogs?

1 comment:

Peter May - The Pinotage Club said...

We are in agreement :)

You prefer old world wine regions to emphasise their appellation but don’t object to them naming the varieties on their labels and think the new world should empathise their regions. I agree, and there is movement in the new world for regional labelling to gain in importance as more consumers become aware of terroir and want wines that have a sense of place and can be linked to one place .

You say “a (protected) regional name is unique, uncopyable, defensible.” Protected is the key. Recent international trade agreements have made great strides in protecting geographical names, but you can still buy port, champagne, chianti, chablis, burgundy etc in the US that have never seen those places.

I can see why old world wine regions are keen to push their name since (as you say) making wine there is the one thing that the new world cannot do. It can make a Pinot Noir using burgundian bred yeast but no matter how good the wine is it can never be a Burgundy. However over emphasis on regional naming is not the whole answer – Jamie Goode has written several times on using appellations as a brand – see

But in the end wine is a product and it needs people to buy it. If those people are in the supermarket looking for a Chenin or Pinot Noir or Tempranillo then those words on a label will gain a sale better than just Savennieres, Bourgogne or Rioja.

I look forward to your next item for discussion.