Contextual Wine Labeling
I wanted to bring this issue out of the comments section because I think it is an interesting issue. A reader commented earlier that this statement on the back of a bottle of California Malbec is probably done to try to piggyback on the Bordeaux’s well deserved quality reputation: :"Malbec is one of the five red varieties traditionally used in Bordeaux wines."
In fact the commenter said this:
"So, why then does the producer want to put it on the label (or back such)?
My guess is that the producer wants to benefit from the high
reputation that Bordeaux wines have (deservedluy or undeservedly, as
you wish). To put it in a different way – the producer wants to get a
free ride on Bordeaux reputation. A wimp producer who cannot stand up
for what he does himself perhaps?
I think that it is poor judgement and poor marketing from that
producer and I cannot say that I feel much pity for him – or the label
This is not an unreasonable interpretation or evaluation. Let’s face it, marketers have been known to copy or otherwise use whatever works and try to get any upper hand so they can to sell their particular product. And this tendency applies to wine too. Whyhy not try to piggy back where you can if the down side is minimal. This, however, is exactly the kind of "unfair use" that the EU has been complaining about for years when it comes to American marketers whether we are usurping words such as Roquefort or Chablis. It’s not fair. It’s dishonest and it’s the kind of thing that has great potential to reduce the value of the place-name in question.
So, it’s far from out of the realm of possibility that the winemaker that made reference to Bordeaux on the back of their Malbec label was just trying to benefit off the long, hard work done by others in Bordeaux over the centuries.
But there’s also another possibility.
Malbec is hardly a well known grape in the United States. It would make sense to use the back label to educate the buyer on what they are holding in their hands so the negative aspect of them likely not knowing anything about this type of wine is reduced. So, how does one describe Malbec?
Well, you can say it is red. You could also describe the variety’s characteristics. You might also give some historical context to the wine. If you tried to offer this kind of context, what would you do. I don’t think it’s possible to do this without referencing the fact that Malbec is one of the five red grapes that have for decades been those designated for use in Bordeaux. It would be the same way I’d give context to Petit Verdot or Cabernet Franc. All three fall into the same general "Unknown" category as Malbec.
Is this either an intended or unintended case of the winemaker suggesting the wine in the bottle will TASTE LIKE Bordeaux?
What about the winemaker who on their back label writes, "there is a line of latitude that runs across the globe which seems be the line of wine; the location on the globe where wine grapes thrive. Surrounding and right on the 45th degree of latitude you will find the winemaking regions of Germany, France, Italy, Spain and, right smack in the middle of the line, our little vineyard here in Oregon."
It seems to me that in the case of this back label the winery IS playing on the reputation of these other, famed winemakng countries they mention. However, the nugget of information they offer is also pretty compelling. It’s exactly the kind of thing a wine lover would want to know. It makes a connection between this wine and the broader world of wine on a geographic scale. It puts the winery in some context. It seems entirely legitimate.
In the same way, our client’s vague reference to Bordeaux, which doesn’t even have the same direct connotations to quality that our imaginary Oregon winery does, puts Malbec in context for the wine buyer.
But there is something else to this logic.What if our client wrote of Malbec on the back label: "Malbec is a red grape that can be found in a variety of regions where grapes are grown, including Sri Lanka." Since Sri Lanka is not known for making wine, let alone wine from Malbec, should this also be considered out of bounds for a marketer? It doesn’t seem so bad when there is no cemented history of the grape being planted in a particular region but nonetheless has once been planted there.
I think the reference to Bordeaux on the Malbec’s back label is entirely legitimate. Clearly it would not be legitimate for a winery to put "Bordeaux" on their label, suggesting what is in the bottle is in fact from Bordeaux. The front label, however, clearly states where the grapes were grown and it says on the back label where the wine was bottled.
So while it is possible to write a back label that would clearly be a case of trying to ride on another region’s reputation, I think we need to also entertain an alternate possibility. I think it’s entirely legitimate and good marketing to reference another region when attempting, in particular circumstances, to give context to a product that might not otherwise have much of a context at all.