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The Brand Bandwagon

Once upon a time life was simple. Cars took you from A to B. Telephones were used to make telephone calls. Perfume was worn to stop you smelling of gin and syphilis and grapes were grown, picked, squidged, fermented and drunk. Now these simple things define us. The Brand is king. It can make or break the marketing potential of a product, even wine.

Would, for example, Marlborough's iconic wine Cloudy Bay have become the global phenomenon that it did if they had called it Farewell Spit? They nearly did, but you don't require a marketing genius to tell you that naming a wine after any bodily excretion is a bad move. Cloudy Bay avoided that pitfall, their name and iconic label becoming synonymous with a new style of Sauvignon Blanc and more. The way the wine was branded went on to inspire the vast collection of other wines named after bays, creeks, hills and ridges. Some contrived, some born more organically but there can be no arguing of the appeal to the consumer. After this came the animals. A goat, a pig, a horse or a fish on the label quickly became the way to make a wine stand out on the supermarket shelf. Now, combine an animal with a geographical landmark, say, Kangaroo Brook or Beavers Backwater and you've struck gold. But wine branding is about far more than just a label.

Consider how regions invent themselves (by design or accident) as brands in their own right. Take the mighty Champagne. For decades, centuries even, the region has succeeded in convincing the world that it is not worth celebrating anything without uncorking a bottle of their sparkly stuff. And what about Rioja? Blindly ordered in pubs and restaurants across the country, often without the purchaser having a single clue of what exactly is in the bottle. Chateauneuf du Pape - the same -, Bordeaux too. Chablis, again is a brand unto its own. Bigger then the people who make it; bigger even than Chardonnay grape. There is the classic adage that every bar person, wine retailer or Sommelier has heard at least once "I don't like Chardonnay, I do like a Chablis though?" The power of the brand can confuse even the most sensible of minds.

Perhaps, it is no coincidence that a lot of the wine brands that are recognisable by region are French, or at least old world. The new world wine producers changed the game by putting grape variety before region, spotting that it was a more effective way to brand their wines. Even the novice can now comfortably order a Sauvignon Blanc being pretty sure they know what they are getting. The strength of this method of branding is now realised by the fact that today you'll find wine makers across France putting the grape variety on their label where previously they would have perished the thought. The key of a wine label, after all, is to express what the wine is about and transfer that as concisely as possible to the consumer. It is a gateway into the bottle without actually opening the stuff. Take Sussex's own Albourne Vineyards for example. The watercolour paintings on their labels of wildlife found in the vineyard seems to perfectly encapsulate what the wines are all about. The Albourne Bacchus 2015, sporting an image of a buzzard, is a quintessentially English affair. Soft and pure with notes of elderflower, nettle and goosebery. Or, for something at the opposite end of the spectrum, try Some Young Punks' Fun in the Sun 2014The cartoon strip label will make the purist shudder but it is fun and eye catching. It smells of Australia, in a good way. Of ripe, unctuous fruit - not of Harold Bishop and misogyny. It has that sherberty aroma that suggests warm climate red fruit but is fresh and appealing. A most aptly named drink. And how could we possibly ignore the mega-brand of Champagne. The Mandois 2010 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs with its gold label and foil shows off with terrific depth of flavour and a long, luxuriously toasty finish. Drink it out of a magnum to experience its true splendour.

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