The concept of the brand and indeed the very word fills our modern world. We live in brand aware times, when almost everything has to be branded. I seem very odd to my children as I want the label to be on the inside of my clothes.
The wine trade talks about brands all the time. I know what it means and I know what people mean by the use of the word, but it is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde of a word isn’t it?
Marketeers use it to describe any wine or wine name, be it a single wine like Château Latour, or an entire range like Nottage Hill. Well, we all know that there is a wide difference between those entities and this is confused further when much of the wine trade also uses the word ‘brand’ in a dismissive manner about cleverly marketed bulk wines.
So, what is a brand? Is it purely a label or ‘marque’ if you like, that differentiates one wine from another? This after all is where the word comes from; an actual symbol branded on cattle in Texas, in the nineteenth century, to keep tag of who owned which animals.
Or, has the word evolved to now mean a product with deep market penetration and consumer awareness?
We appear to use the word to mean both things, but depending on the conversation we seem to know that we are not talking about the same thing. If you do not believe me mention two different wine names to a wine lover;
Villa Maria – a highly respected producer of excellent New Zealand wines that is considered a brand.
Blossom Hill – a bulk California label that is one of the top 10 UK wine brands.
From most wine lovers you will receive a positive reaction about Villa Maria and their wines, whereas if the people that you ask are anything like the ones that I spoke to, they will roll their eyes when you mention Blossom Hill.
Yet we speak about these two as fundamentally the same thing – a brand. Is that the right thing to do? Is context enough to differentiate? Is there a difference or am I just a snob?
Here is one definition of the word brand:
“A brand is a name or trademark connected with a product or producer.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. 2004.
According to this definition then any product at all that bears a name is a brand. So, why is it used in a disparaging sense as well and why do we not have a term for wines that are invented or concocted for commercial reasons rather than being made by someone and then sold – after all the music business knows what the term boy-band means?
That of course then leads us on to a discussion as to whether invented or concocted wines are inherently of less quality than wines from a traditional producer – one who makes the wines as they want to and worry about selling it afterwards?
There is no reason as to why they should be, not by definition anyway and that is why I am tasting all these brands. I am tasting them properly, just as I would any other wine and I am approaching the task full of optimism that I will find good stuff out there – wish me luck.
As a footnote I should point out that the wines that have always called out to me are the slightly unusual, the exciting or the maverick wines. Samuel Maverick, of course famously left his cattle unbranded and was thought to be independently minded.
The 2 Kumalas pleased me as I have tasted them in the past, in their pre Constellation days and thought them to be quite poor. It is good to see that some input from Bruce Jack, who I greatly respect, has had a real impact on these wines. They are not made for wine people, but they are so much better than the other brands that I have tried so far that I actually drank a glass of the red with my dinner. I think it is the touch of edge in the wine that does it, it is not just smooth and bland, there are conflicts going on in the glass, bitterness, acidity and fruit, all of which makes it more interesting and better balanced as a whole.
I will taste more brands soon.