Studying Sparklings, Fortifieds and Spirits for Diploma ‘Units 4-6’
Standout shocks are Finos and Manzanillas. Fortified to only a low degree; bone dry and bracing; with yogurty saltiness and sometimes the brininess of the nearby ocean. (One classmate, a professional cook, perceptively recalled preserved lemons when we tasted.) Meant to match with tapas of the region, they miraculously do pair with any savoury food. What other wine can make such a claim?
And, after recovering from first-ever tastings, I discovered that I was enjoying them alone, the way you savour time alone on a beach on a cold, breezy and grey day. The enormity and rawness of the cold ocean pairs with the solitary human spirit. Similarly, I found that I enjoy fresh, chilled Manzanilla on its own.
But that’s where the easy relationship ends. After that it’s difficult. The labeling is bad, leading people to think it’s all Granny’s old, sweet gunk. The codes – critical for knowing bottling and best-before dates of this oxygen-supersensitive drink — are indecipherable (after some detective work I discovered how some of the codes function…but not all). And people generally find the dry wines unwelcoming since Jerez producers have done nothing to teach the global public anything about their complex drinks.
So when I fell on this headline – ‘At Jerez Tasting Session, More Questions Than Answers’ – from a recent New York Times, I thought, Wow, finally! Movement between Jerez and the consumer public! Whoops. It was ‘Testing,’ and not ‘Tasting,’ and was referring to professional car racing and not a lovely Fino. And, no, I hadn’t noticed it was in the Sports section.
My final hope was that Jerez producers were sponsoring cars in order to raise the global profile; but no luck there, either.
So I’ll continue to love Sherries — I didn’t even mention utterly spectacular, nut-drenched Amontillados or Palo Cortados here – and hope that Jerez decides to like us all in return one day.
“Good and Bad Packaging: Jerez V Champagne” — My Unit 1 CWA on ‘Packaging & Presentation of Wine’ with citations, bibliography and appendices removed (no pun intended). Graded a PASS, though another one I wrote for someone, which was not better than this but more market-oriented, earned a MERIT. There’s no justice.
Changing Wine Business Motivates Changing Strategies
The business of wine is experiencing unprecedented changes. Only decades ago the global wine arena comprised traditional Old World producers and some innovative New World producers. Today, the lines are increasingly blurred between Old and New Worlds,1-4 and huge emerging markets (notably in Asia and India) are exponentially multiplying numbers of both producers and consumers.
This newly global marketplace naturally forces producers to compete harder for market share. One of the components that sells a product is its packaging, and perhaps packaging is more significant for luxury products than for other products, since a luxury product answers complex desires.5 Further, a debate simmers constantly in the wine world on what most wine consumers are consuming: wines or labels.6,7
Whether artisanal or owned by a large beverage conglomerate, wine producers seeking a market advantage are turning to sophisticated marketing and branding tools. Labeling is that tool for some, and we see some firms using it to their best advantage. Others take a more relaxed approach to the appearance of their products. I believe my choices of “good” (Veuve Clicquot NV Champagne) and “bad” (La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry) packaging reflects those two business approaches.
Information Contained in Labels
From Plain Text to Full-Colour, 3-D Eye-Popping
For most of the last 200 years, a wine bottle and its label needed only to communicate to a local domestic, or very limited (and captive) international market. Labels contained a few lines of text, and some Old World labels have retained that tradition. However, bottles from around the world are on shelves in most nations and all continents, each battling for consumer attention. In the past, Old World producers counted largely on consumer recognition of small regions or of independent producers. New World producers were revolutionary when they placed varietally labelled wines onto the market.
Today, facing global competition, professional market strategy and analysis are being employed to help producers find their consumers. Such analysis informs wine producers on what their packages need to communicate in order to make sales. Labels have taken an important place in wine marketing, so much so that the traditional “Four Ps” of marketing theory8 became the “Eight Ps” including “Packaging” (“Design and Labelling”) in this work dedicated to the marketing of wine.9
Each component of a wine package and its presentation speaks to the consumer. In the case of wine, bottles of glass, plastic and tin; and packages such as Tetra-Pak or bag-in-box all give clues about a product’s market position, intended market and use, and more. Package closures speak to various types of consumers and communicate ideas. The switch from natural cork to Stelvin screwcap on premium wines was a complex battle that largely pitted New World technology against stubborn Old World tradition. Consumers have personal perceptions upon viewing cork, cork types, or Stelvin screwcap. T-top corks and plastic taps deliver simpler messages but they communicate nonetheless.
Packaging shape and packaging size speak to individual consumers in individual ways. Sometimes attitudes have a cultural grip. Swedish wine consumers, for example, are said to hold favourable views of boxed wine,10 whereas in my market a boxed wine is still perceived largely negatively. Labels are arguably the most important component since they can communicate a host of messages through language and visuals. A label on a bottle is critical in terms of what a consumer may be encouraged to understand and to desire from a purchase.11
A dynamic development in marketing through label design has been noticed across North America and in my local market (British Columbia, Canada, a wine region of 4000 hectares of wine grapes and annual sales of CDN$200M). Recently, wine consumers witnessed a trend in wine labels designed and determined to leap off the shelves into the hands of a new generation of wine drinkers.12 Bucking tradition, wineries created social-media “buzz” (commercially important, free publicity that multiplies itself) through the outright use of expletives, sassy verbiage and highly dynamic (sometimes overtly sexual) visuals on bottles.13 While possibly not designed for the long haul, such label presentation presented a new way for wineries to connect to a new audience.
As the global wine marketplace exploded and more wine producers were purchased by conglomerates, companies concluded that in order to capture market share efficiently consumers needed to be separated into groups whose distinct “wine personalities” could be identified. This segmenting14 of wine consumers now appears critical in a larger-than-ever wine market. Wine consumers are not a single, homogenous group but types, or groups, of consumers who are fulfilling a number of desires through their wine-buying habits. Once segmented, marketers are more able to create appropriate strategies to capture a group, or demographic.
Since around 2000, many marketing theorists have delineated sets and subsets of the “types” of wine consumers. Perhaps the best known was Constellation Wines US Project Genome: Home & Habits (2008),15 which identified six types of wine consumers, the size of each group, and the percentage of market share each purchased [Appendix A]. It seems logical from a marketing perspective that wineries would use this type of strategy when designing packages and labels since the graphic, or package, that catches the eye of one demographic is of no interest to another.
In terms of what is required on a wine package, there is large overlap between EU regulations and those in Canada. Here in Canada, as in other jurisdictions around the world, a wine package must conform to legal standards16 as set out by the government. The Government of Canada does this from within the rubric of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency [Appendix B]. A notable difference in Canada’s laws from some others is that packaging information on Canadian store shelves (required for domestic and imported products) must include both national official languages, French and English.
Apart from what is legally required on a label, what a winery does with the remaining space on a bottle or box is limited only by a producer’s imagination. This is as true in my region as anywhere. British Columbia wineries can, and are indeed are now displaying either their own identity – if viewed as a viable branding tool – or the identity of their desired market. As an example, a local Aboriginal-controlled winery, Nk’Mip Cellars,17 brands itself as “North America’s first Aboriginal owned and operated winery” (it is now owned by Constellations Brands but is still operated by the Osoyoos Indian Band). Nk’Mip bottles display Aboriginal artwork below their distinctly Aboriginal name. In marketing terms, the winery is using its regional cultural equity as a branding tool.
Another Okanagan winery, Tantalus Vineyards,18 also displays Aboriginal artwork on its label, which sends a message of a regional and traditional product, although there is no Aboriginal involvement in the winery and the distinctly Haida Gwaii wood-carving artwork belongs not to the Okanagan region but to a non-grape-growing, coastal, boreal rainforest region in British Columbia. Canadian Aboriginals had no history of wine production, but some bands were geographically situated in the heart of what became a wine region. This demonstrates how regional markers and local history can be used in packaging to help market wines.
Okanagan region winemakers have also mined local history with names and labels whose social-media “buzz” undoubtedly helps sales. Blasted Church Vineyards19 and Dirty Laundry Vineyard20 are high-profile wines in part because they branded themselves with local historic lore and exciting, highly visual labels (it is not surprising that wine label awards21 now exist, and that Blasted Church has won such an award). Creating marketing “buzz” with wine labels isn’t entirely new; Chateau Mouton Rothschild has been commissioning the works of famous artists22 for decades. Yet it hasn’t proliferated as a marketing device until only recently.
Wine labels can speak clearly to any desired market. Classic European-style labels communicate a message of history and tradition; Sexy, loud labels may be made to speak to a younger market; visual and creative designs can be used to speak to adventurous wine drinkers. When label design is properly matched with other Ps of the Marketing Mix, then sales are at least positioned to be within reach.
Case Study of the Effectiveness of Labels
Good Packaging and Bad Packaging
For this report, I selected two Old World imported wines available in my local market. Selections were not based on my personal aesthetic criteria but of my observations as a WSET student. My example of “good packaging” is that of Veuve Clicquot NV Brut Champagne [Appendix C], produced by Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, based in Reims, France, and now owned by luxury brand LVMH. I observe that Veuve Clicquot has been carefully marketed over a long period, and its branding effects are firmly felt far from its place of production.
My choice of “bad packaging” is that of La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry [Appendix C], produced by Bodegas Hidalgo in Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain. My local market is minor in terms of Sherry sales (the category is more popular in the more ‘Eurocentric’ locales of Toronto and Montreal), yet Vancouver industry professionals work hard to make it a part of local wine culture. My research suggests that the consumer-friendly packaging of other brands here (Tio Pepe, Alvear, Lustau) makes their work easier, and that the poor packaging of La Gitana makes theirs an uphill effort.
Veuve Clicquot NV Champagne
Analyzing in terms of the Marketing Mix, Veuve Clicquot has done a remarkably successful job of differentiating itself from all other Champagne producers and creating a unique identity for itself in the minds of consumers.
The persevering work it has done, and continues to do, in order to trademark and protect not only its name but the colour of its label23 demonstrates vigilance of its branding worldwide. As such, there is little mistaking it in the marketplace. Its packaging communicates messages of luxury, celebration, joy, and disposable income. Asked her opinion on the packaging, Barb Philip, MW, and a European buyer for British Columbia’s government-owned liquor company (BCLDB), told me in an interview,24 “It jumps off the shelf. It strikes that balance between premium-looking and fun-looking at the same time. It looks classic yet still grabs your eye.”
Veuve Clicquot promotes itself ceaselessly, whether through the general media, or with special promotional items at holiday times in retail stores, or through its own tiered web site. The results of these branding efforts make its bright label stand apart from other traditional-looking Champagnes25 of equal price and quality [Appendix D].
It makes full use of its long history while managing to appear hip and current to a generation of new Champagne consumers. Also in terms of new consumers, and remarking from my local market, Vancouver’s large demographic of wealthy Asian immigrants provide luxury brands like Veuve Clicquot with an important “bridge” market since many of these new citizens retain strong ties to Asia, a critical new market for all luxury brands.26
Also on its brandedness, an example of how well LMVH actively polices its image globally was how it launched a lawsuit27 against a small Canadian women’s wear retailer on grounds of trademark infringement because the retailer’s name included the name Cliquot (without the second c of Veuve Clicquot).
The label of bottles imported into Canada conform to our labelling laws and include information useful to consumers (website name clearly cited) and multilingual catch-phrases (in bold lettering in English: “THE WIDOW”, giving an otherwise-negative term some hip cachet), and a story of the firm’s history. But even for consumers who can’t read, or who can’t read either English or French, the label’s trademarked colour says what the text may not. The cost of this bottle in my market is approximately CDN$70 retail, which positions it as the premium product that consumers have been taught to expect. Finally, its distinct bottle shape has kept to the public’s expectation of how a Champagne bottle should appear. This all speaks to me as solidly branded packaging in my market.
La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry
From the Marketing Mix perspective, I observe that in spite of being a premium product, the packaging of La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry has not hit the right notes in this wine market. Bodegas Hidalgo competitors (to the degree that Manzanilla and Fino can be regarded as a comparatively alike products, and in my market that is the case) in my local market are Tio Pepe (the category leader locally), Lustau and Alvear. The latter three brands have apparently tweaked their label designs in the recent past and display a very contemporary appearance on store shelves, while La Gitana appears quite elderly beside them. The bottle’s brown-tinted, slightly hourglass shape makes it appear old-fashioned without achieving any hip “retro” appeal.
I interviewed Harry Hertscheg,28 Executive Director of the annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, certified Sherry wine educator, Spanish wine educator, and Spanish wine ambassador. Mr. Hertscheg speaks passionately about the Sherry category and works locally to increase interest in it. Mr. Hertscheg praised the premium quality of the La Gitana product and its producers, yet was not sold on the packaging. “The taste of this product is very modern and fresh” and food-friendly, he told me, yet he felt that the geometric cutouts and gilt detail “look cheap.” He continued, “And for our market, calling a product ‘The Gypsy’ is not modern.” Mr. Hertscheg also noted that the identical product is sold in Spain under a screwcap, while the bottle in our market is under the more antiquated T-top cork.
I also interviewed award-winning Vancouver sommelier and certified Sherry educator, Kurtis Kolt,29 who created Canada’s largest Sherry-tasting program at Salt Tasting Room, a Vancouver restaurant. “I agree it’s bad presentation,” he said. “I think there’s room for more contemporary, stylish packaging without diminishing the integrity of the product in the bottle. You already have the myth that it’s for grandmothers, and the framed picture doesn’t do it any favours for jumping off the shelf.”
Some Sherry bottles do provide some helpful product explanation and/or food pairing information on their labels, and Mr. Kolt said he would welcome some type of label design “with a colour that would pop,” and indicate appropriate food pairing of, for example, he said, olives or almonds.
All of the professionals I spoke to, including La Gitana’s local agent, Paul Watkin30 of Seacove Wine & Spirits Group Incorporated, acknowledged that it is a complex, premium product with some artisanal cachet attached, and that reluctance on the part of the producer to modernize its presentation points to generations of Bodegas Hidalgo tradition and its solid Sherry markets in Spain and the UK. From a marketing standpoint, such an attitude would appear unhelpful if tradition were to stand in the way of consumer discovery of an outstanding product, even if a producer is more interested in artisanal integrity than in growing sales (which is its prerogative).
Mr. Watkin said that the product’s label and packaging importantly communicates itself in its place and its historical context. I respect his point but I would debate it: Like Bodegas Hidalgo, Veuve Clicquot’s history also dates back to the mid-1700s and has an important story to tell; but Veuve Clicquot has succeeded in making its history look and feel relevant on store shelves in 2012, whereas La Gitana has not.
Market strategy aside, La Gitana’s two text-containing labels are printed in Spanish only (contravening Canadian labelling laws that require English and French) in our market of few Spanish speakers, and lacks any mention of the word “Sherry” on its face label, or any mention of what it is or how it might be consumed. Alvear Fino, by contrast, explains itself and its product attractively on its front and back labels [Appendix D]. At approximately CDN$16 for a half-bottle, La Gitana situates itself as an accessibly priced premium wine in our market. However, from the Marketing Mix perspective the price cannot help its position if consumers cannot recognize the product.
Will the New Wine World Order Have Room for All?
This topic is on marketing, but the research illuminated an example of a wider debate in wine culture today (seen currently in the writings and online discussions of prominent wine writers such as Jamie Goode and Alice Feiring, among others). The debate, which centres on production values (specifically “natural” winemaking), makes distinctions between “corporate” producers and “artisanal” producers, and this divide could be seen to exist between Veuve Clicquot and La Gitana. This research is on packaging, which leads to branding and then raises broader issues.
Veuve Clicquot is a conglomerate-owned, solidly branded product actively situating itself on the global stage of wine business. La Gitana, on the other hand, appears to be identifying as an artisanal product resisting the relentless push of capital markets to be yet another profit-making product in a brand-manager’s portfolio.
Wine professionals might hope that a highly branded product will be able to retain its quality integrity under the pressures of profit margins; and that a small producer such as Bodegas Hidalgo, resisting the urges of the marketplace, will last many more generations to produce as unique a wine as Manzanilla Sherry.