Sunday, November 25, 2007

Wine and Photography - some thoughts

Andrew Barrow from Spittoon is, as I have said before, a great photographer of wine 'occasions', particularly setting them off against food matches. Check out his photos here. He also pointed me to a friend's photos here.

He and I have had a brief conversation about this some time ago, and I thought I would share my issues with this subject here in case others have any suggestions.

If you ask someone for a "wine" photo, you will get:

- a bottle shot, with or without props
- a vineyard shot
- a glass of wine (funny angle not required); swirling or dripping extra
- a smiling couple/group at a table with glasses raised

However well executed these shots are (and some are better than others), they have been done before by someone else. What is happening in 2007 with wine that we want to communicate? Is there nothing different today than there was 2, 10, 20, 50 years ago? I think there is, and we need to think about the visual language of how we get this across.

Let me give a comparative example culled from about 45 seconds searching on

If wine were ... snowboarding, then this is the photo we are using (This photo by Anh Quan). There is nothing wrong with it. It shows boards, the design alternatives and the set up is fine.

However, snowboaring enthusiasts might use this type of shot (Photo by T A K K):

Relevant, active, engaging, atmospheric, fun, modern, youthful, ... good!

You might even go so far as saying that if you removed the board from the photo, there are still enough clues for the target market to say "Snowboard!" (or whatever a cool snowboarder actually says).

This is exactly what the perfume business and soft drinks markets already do. Perfumes are all about beautiful people being terribly attractive.

Soft drinks are the same. A can is boring, but Wayne Rooney draining a can after a tough game whilst condensation drips from the can or bottle is not. Of course we cannot, by law, do many of these same things for wine at least in the EU, but the concepts are there.

So, if snowboarding or perfumes were wine, what photos should we be taking to make it relevant, active ... and all those other nice words up there?

Now, Chateau Petrogasm has attempted to move in this area, although not directly. Their concept is to link a photo (or an image more generally) with a tasting note. This is radical, and fun, but it is about the taste of the wine. I am still thinking a little more broadly about how photography might capture the essence of a wine brand.

Tom Wark at Fermentation also mentioned a similar issue recently, although relating to the graphics for the entire catalogue and not about a single wine or brand.

I believe that this area is ideal fodder for more creative bloggers who have a decent artistic streak and mastery of a camera.

Question: How would you 'capture' a wine brand WITHOUT showing a bottle, a glass, winery or vineyard? Has it been done? Any suggestions for specific brands (polite only please!)?

And then (you knew it was coming), how might we communicate the Wine Conversation and therefore the role of wine in our culture(s) in general using photography (bottles and glasses allowed this time)?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Binge drinking and tax

I want to comment on the latest moves to increase the tax on alcohol in the UK ostensibly to address the issues of "problem" drinking.

Unfortunately I don't even know where to start and I am rushed.

I've commented before that governments seem to be unable to think straight when it comes to alcohol. They need to be seen to do something because the media (in particular) loves to act all puritanical when it comes to bashing politicians (whilst simultaneously celebrating the outrageous lifestyles of certain 'celebrities').

This means that politicians can use very simplistic solutions that both please the media hacks and generate revenue for the Treasury whilst claiming to be acting in the public good. Unfortunately it is usually rubbish.

Raising duty on alcohol even further will not do anything to stop underage drinking, or weekend binge drinking, or even to reduce alcoholism. All it does is tax the vast majority who do drink sensibly. Not only that, but it perpetuates the drive towards low-cost, mass produced drinks brands that can afford to counter the price increases and build market share. These drinks do not have the kind of history or role in our society that encourages responsible enjoyment of the alcohol. Their goal is bigger volume so as to generate the necessary economies of scale to justify their investments.

The effect is to kill off any independent producers' & retailers' markets, and with them the chance of a mature drinking culture.

PLEASE lets have a sensible discussion about WHY we drink too excess in the UK, and other parts of the world (because we do) before we kill off the most sensible way out of this situation.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A better attempt at wine in Tetra Pak

[... or my revised title: "Thinking of Outside the Box" - see comments]

Le Village du Sud is a new brand concept from the well respected Mont Tauch cooperative in the South of France (specifically in Fitou).

It caught my attention as, once again, they are being pretty innovative with their branding and their route to market. They have usually provided wines that are a cut above the competition, and they have also been much more willing to take on marketing activities, such as bringing wine makers and grape growers (who speak no English but really look the part) to wine tastings across the UK, including the BBC Good Food Show where I saw them.

This time it is the Tetra Pak, something I have written about in the past. Once again it is available from The Coop. They are certainly keener than most to do something 'sustainable' and positive for the environment - whether environmentally friendly or fairtrade.

The wine in question is an Old Vine Grenache in a 1 litre tetra pak. The packaging itself is a little different, with extra angles and a "prism shape". However, what I found intriguing is that they have managed to move the design away from being a pseudo glass bottle. They have realised that a tetra pak allow you to do a lot more with the packaging than simply copy the information from a label (which is always extremely limited) or to show a picture of a bottle or glass (the usual cop-out).

This one has a series of cartoons that give the wine an extra dimension of personality not usually associated with Vin de Pays d'Oc, especially as it is in English. This is very bold, forward-thinking and fun.

Shame about the wine!

As I always point out, this is not a site for tasting notes, but I did try this wine to see if I could detect something specifically "tetra pak like" in it, just to see if the packaging affected the taste. Now, I admit this was not done blind, but I have no problem liking wines in other packaging, so I was not negatively predisposed. However, I found a very unpleasant aftertaste in the wine which I assume must come from the packaging as I do actually like their wines normally. I'd love to read more informed views on whether this is a truly inert packaging format for wine.

Finally, a niggle. If you look at the front of the packaging, you'll see a badge which I also saw on the previous tetra pak I reviewed called masterpeace.

"33% free" and "33% more wine free compared to a standard 75cl bottle"

FREE? There are lots of objections to this statement, chief of which is that this wine is NOT available in 75cl glass bottles, so how can it possibly be compared? Also, this wine was already discounted, ostensibly for the launch, from £4.99 to £3.99. Quite how much of a cheap and "drink loads" mentality do they want to associate with this wine?

I do hope that 1L formats will not keep using this statement.

Overall review; nice idea, but once again more show than substance, largely due to the final quality of the wine.