Posted on 21 June 2012 by davidbiggs
The human brain is an amazingly persuasive organ. Feed it the right information and it will send out all kind of confusing messages.
This is what modern marketing is all about. Nobody advertises wine as being fermented grape juice that tastes rather pleasant and makes you a little light-headed. We all want to see wine as part of a lifestyle, so we advertise it as “Three centuries of gracious Cape living,” or “relaxed outdoor fun in good company.”
And once our brains tell us we’re about to taste a sip of gracious living our palates get themselves lined up for something special.
And we do taste gracious living.
When we see a cheeky label with a smiling giraffe on it, we immediately think “fun and frivolity” and suddenly we’re tasting in carefree party mode.
And – sure enough — it is fun and frivolous.
I wonder how a regal Chateau Mouton Rothschild would fare at a tasting if it were served in a clear PET screw-cap bottle.
Would you approach it with the necessary reverence, or take a slug and say: ‘”Hey, nice plonk!”
This is partly why blind tastings can be so misleading. You don’t know what to expect. There’s just a plain wine-glass in front of you. Do you approach it with reverence or just cheerful anticipation?
If you’re expecting three centuries of gracious lifestyle you may be disappointed by the wine. If you’re expecting something cheap and cheerful you may find a big, serious wine rather tannic and gloomy.
Marketers know this and offer us the clues we need to set our brains on the right track.
The bottle itself makes quite a difference. Bottles vary enormously in style and character.
I recently weighed two empty bottles out of interest.
The first had held Snow Mountain 2009 Syrah (from Nabygelegen Private Cellar) and weighed little more than half the Haskell bottle’s weight, at 600gm.
Both wines, I hasten to say, were delightful. I would have been proud to serve either to wine-loving guests.
But I had, subconsciously, approached each wine with a different expectation.
I expected the Haskell to be great. It was.
I was delighted and surprised to find the Snow Mountain great, which it undoubtedly was.
The planet-saving wineries might brag about their eco-friendly, ultra-light, energy-conserving bottles, but will the consumers take them seriously?
Posted on 12 April 2012 by davidbiggs
I sometimes wonder if wine producers actually study the reasons people buy – or don’t buy – their wines.
How many wine drinkers actually care a hoot whether a wine has been awarded 92 points by the sainted Robert Parker?
Or whether a wine has won a silver medal in the Uzbekistan Wine Challenge?
Almost every wine cellar is anxious to publicise the news that their wine received a gold medal at the London Wine and Spirit Competition or the Concours Mondeal in Brussels, or the Trophy Wine Show, The SA Terroir Wine Competition, The Michelangelo Awards, the ABSA Pinotage Top 10 Competition or the Veritas Competition.
And the rest!
We wine writers are constantly bombarded with facts like these. Sometimes we pass them on to what we believe are our adoring readers.
A survey of wine buyers in the UK some years ago showed that almost none of them actually read wine magazines or wine articles in newspapers.
So what sells wine?
Apparently price and pretty labels account for 90% of wine sales.
Bear in mind that most wines are sold in supermarkets these days. They’re bought by people who want a reasonable wine to go with the coronation chicken they’re cooking that evening.
And they want to spend “not more than R30, for goodness sake. You can get a very decent wine at that price.”
They know they want a dry white wine, or an off-dry white or a nice fruity red to go with the pizza. Then it’s a matter of price.
“Oh, this is a pretty label. Let’s try it.”
I regularly have friends come to me and say things like: “Hey, I discovered an absolute bargain at LCD the other day. They’re selling out Blue Cow Cabernet Sauvignon at nine rands a bottle. And it’s quite drinkable! A bit rough, maybe, but not too bad.”
We wine writers like to think our readers are anxiously awaiting our opinions of the latest R800–a-bottle release from Elgin, or the superb wood-fermented Chardonnay from Paarl at R500 a bottle.
Maybe we’re impressing our wine-writing colleagues, but very few other people care a damn.
Give it a pretty label and a bargain price and it will sell.
And I may have written myself out of a job.
Photograph: Douglas Green
Posted on 17 May 2011 by davidbiggs
For some years now the Muscadel Producers’ Association have been trying to improve the image of the delicious fortified wines that are so typically South African.
Producers are urged to create packaging that shows off muscadel as an elegant, sun-kissed drink, rather than simply a high-alcohol bottle of booze.
I’d be delighted to hear from readers what sort of bottle shape you feel reflects the image we’d like to see for this charming drink. I’ll pass on your suggestions to the association.
Some producers, like Boplaas and Bon Courage, have opted for the short, tubby bottle often associated with port.
That’s a problem, some critics say. You look at it and think “port” instead of muscadel.
De Krans Muscadel comes in an elegant slope-shouldered bottle. Is this typical of the category?
Rietvallei and Rooiberg bottle their muscadels in beautifully slender, tall bottles, but how will the wine shop manager display these? They are too slender to stand upright safely, and will be lost if it they’re laid down. The danger is the store boss might simply stack them right on top of the shelves, where it will never be seen.
Unusually shaped bottles may be eye-catching, but will they fit into the normal wine rack? Will they require special machinery for filling and labeling?
What about labels? Should they be ornate or elegantly simple? Shiny or matt?
Then there’s the question of the ideal sized bottle for a muscadel.
These sweet dessert wines are usually sipped in small glasses at the end of a meal. Some enthusiasts (like myself) also enjoy them as tall summer drinks, served over crushed ice.
Should they be packaged in 500ml or 375ml bottles rather than the normal 750ml bottles?
I like a lot. A half bottle depresses me. Some people sip muscadel. I drink it.
If you have definite thoughts about muscadel and its packaging, please let me know and I’ll pass them on to the Muscadel Association.
It would be easiest to contact me by e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or you can reply through the website.
Posted on 19 March 2011 by davidbiggs
The grape harvest may be over, but the hard work is just beginning.
This is where wine farming differs from other branches of agriculture – you compete on a fiercely personal level with every other wine producer.
Beef, wheat, maize or potato producers send their produce to market and receive a cheque and that’s it.
Wine farmers have spent huge sums on labour, diesel fuel, electricity, barrels, bottles, corks, labels, cleaning materials, equipment maintenance and a host of other expenses.
They’ve spent sleepless nights in the cellar, monitoring every change in the fermenting wine.
Now it’s in the tanks and barrels, representing – probably – a very substantial overdraft.
Even if it’s the greatest wine ever made, it’s just debt until it is sold.
There are more than 6000 local wines on the market, every one of them competing with you for the customer’s hard-earned money.
This is why this time of year is marked by a flood of “fun” events – harvest festivals, outdoor concerts, picnics, tractor rides through the vineyards, harvest lunches, you name it.
There’s almost a feeling a desperation about it all. Every winemaker is saying: “Try mine!” If you can get a potential customer to your farm it’s one step closer to getting him to buy a case or two of your wine.
The fine line between success and struggle in the wine industry probably lies more in marketing than in actual winemaking skill.
In reality, of course, you won’t sell much if you produce lousy wine, no matter how many tractor rids you offer.
For us wine lovers this is a delightful situation and an exciting time of year. We are feted and entertained all over the Cape’s beautiful wine regions.
We have a huge advantage over or fellow wine lovers in other provinces. We should grab this advantage with both hands.
Now’s the time to explore the results of the 2011 harvest. Take time to visit a few wineries, attend as many of the events as you can.
There’s a whole new vintage out there just waiting to be enjoyed.