May 6, 2010

A New Direction for America’s Largest Wine Maker?

Recently, a prominent US wine producer was scolded by international authorities for receiving and distributing varietal wines that were not actually the varietal named on the bottle. Also fingered in the scandal was the French distributor who supplied the wine. It seems that what the US company thought they were buying was not what the distributors were selling. At some level there was a switch (and, given the complexity of the French wine labelling and marketing system, no surprise there). Consumers subsequently purchased a wine which they thought was one sort of wine but turned out to be something else.

What’s really interesting about this kafuffle is that no one caught on. No one! The buyers at the US company couldn’t tell that wine X was in fact wine Y. The cellar people, quality control people, bottlers, etc. didn’t spot it either. And so on until the wine was in the customers’ hands. And guess what: The customers couldn’t tell that wine X was in fact wine Y either.

Given that no one in the supply chain could spot the flaw, and that no customer complained that they didn’t get what they thought they’d bought, it seems to me that an effective marketing program could come out of all this. Why not just suggest to the consumer that this wine might be what they’re looking for? At the low end of the wine scale, where this wine resides, dreck is dreck. I’ve tasted bag-in-box Pinot that resembled bad Merlot, and a mass-produced Shiraz that seemed like ...  well, let’s not go there. So here’s a simple solution. Just obfuscate. Give the consumer what they think they want in terms of labels, and then just put something reasonable into the bottle or “cask”. Here are a few suggestions to get started:

Might Be Merlot

Could Be Cabernet

Possibly Pinot Noir

Seems Like Sauvignon Blanc

Should Be Chardonnay
 -tfo