Labels and Branding

Wine is a global, multi-billion dollar industry. Like most industries, while focusing on your product is very important, so is understanding buying decisions and the factors that influence them, product differentiation, and fostering brand loyalty.

Specifically, on the topic of labels, what should a label convey? It should give the consumer an indication of what’s in the bottle, and ideally, what the benefits of purchasing and drinking the wine are. Research has shown that the more complex the label, the more value the consumer perceives, and the more they are willing to spend. Wine labels are also, uniquely, more than a marketing tool: they’re art.

A month or two ago (pre-fire – which will come into play later in this post), Robert and I had the following conversation:

Me: Guess what? I named our white wine!
Robert: Really? What did you name it?
Me: Bald-Faced Hornet
Robert: What?
Me: It’s a type of bee with a white face! Get it? White wine…white bee…goes with Abeille?
Robert: I like your enthusiasm but we’re not naming our wine Bald-Faced Hornet. It doesn’t make any sense.
Me: Neither does Google, or Amazon! It’s edgy! It’s cool!
Robert: No, it’s just not an appetizing name.
Me: But I already mocked-up a label. Please?
Robert: Just…just no.

There is a gulf in the international wine marketplace between old world (French) and new world (American, Australian, New Zealand, etc.) wine regulations as they relate to labeling. The appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) “controlled designation of origin”, is the French certification granted to certain French geological areas for wine (as well as cheese and butter). The first law on viticultural designations dates back to 1905.

These regulations are intended to guarantee that all AOC products adhere to defined standards. AOC products must be produced in a traditional manner with ingredients from specific producers within their designated geographical area, and aged at least partially in the designated area. An AOC you might be familiar with is the Côtes du Rhône. Why am I telling you all of this? Well, French legislation concerning the way vineyards are identified makes recognizing the various AOCs very challenging for wine drinkers unfamiliar with the system. Often, distinguishing classifications requires knowledge of bizarre label laws:

Unless the wine is from a Premier Cru vineyard, the vineyard name must be printed in characters no more than half the height of the ones used for the village name.

You need to understand font regulations to interpret a French wine label. You’re right, though. To be fair, bizarre is my editorial opinion. What I am trying to say is, French regulations place more emphasis on the region where the wine was produced than on the varietal, and French labels are restricted by law. This makes it difficult for the average consumer to understand what they are buying. A wine marked Côtes du Rhône could be a Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignane, Counoise, or Mourvèdre (if red), or a Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, or Viognier (if white). Are you confused yet? I told you. New world labels, on the other hand, emphasize the brand or producer and the grape variety or blend. Simple.

What are the implications for naming and labeling our white wine? We have a lot of flexibility. Now, if we could only agree. We think it’s obvious that we need to come up with something fire-related, particularly since there is an outside chance this year’s vintage is going to have a “unique” smoky quality. We haven’t been able to come up with something snazzy. Pheonix…too obvious. Prometheus…too obvious. Put your thinking caps on. Now accepting suggestions.

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