Greek Gods, Odd Names and Wine
by Christina Kelly
I like to pick interesting names that suit me for my pets.
It is only for my whimsy, since my dog, for instance, is not a commodity for sale to the public. Zehava Asa is the name of my Golden Retriever, which means "golden nurturer." If she were a product, she would probably be "Goldie."
So when I see wines named after some obscure Greek or Roman God, such as Hephaestua, or Proserpine or Maia - names that stumble through my mouth like a dry Christmas fruitcake without something to wash it down, it makes me wonder what on earth the winemaker was thinking.
Marketing is not always second nature to winemakers, so names, product labels and building markets are sometimes hit and miss. As an avid fan of Oregon wines, there are a few marketing sins to point out in an effort to help both wineries and consumers build brand loyalty without the effort it takes for an all-out, costly campaign.
Sin Number One
The average wine buyer will gravitate towards wine with names they can pronounce. It's hard enough pronouncing certain varietals such as Gewürztraminer (Guh-vurtz-trah-mean-er), Semillon (Sem-ee-yawn) and Marechal Foch (Mah-reh-shal Fosh). On top of a difficult varietal, some winemakers will compound it by naming their wine after a matriarchal great-grandmother who came from the Old Country and has a silent "H" in her name and very few vowels.
A good example is Tsillan Cellars in Lake Chelan, Wash. People try to say "t-sill-lian," when it is actually pronounced Chelan. It is the Native American spelling of the region. The wines are terrific, but an engineer friend of mine, and an avid Star Trek fan, thought it was honoring the planet Vulcan (Live long and prosper!).
Honoring grandparents, cultures and significant events and partners is a sweet idea but not a smart marketing concept unless the names are something fairly easy, identifiable, or you have a ton of money to spend marketing that hard-to-say-out-loud wine. And most small, independent Oregon winemakers don't have that kind of money.
Sin Number Two
I am mechanically challenged. When I purchase a bottle of wine, I want to open it with ease. As much as I appreciate some of the beautiful capsules with bright wax sealing, I have found myself with a screwdriver and hammer trying to pry off the wax. There are shards of red, black and blue wax peeling permanently embedded in my carpet.
The foil cutters don't always work. Trying to peel off the wax with my fingers doesn't work either, and my fingernails take on the look of the ragged hand on David O'Reilly's Sinister Hand label. As tempting as it is to close the wine with wax for an elegant look, keep in mind that there are plenty of folks like me who can handle the cork screw, but tussle with wax sealing.
Play with the capsules if you need color. Go with screw tops - you won't lose as much wine to cork taint. Have mercy on those of us who honestly can't master more than pulling a cork out of the bottle, or have mercy on our carpets.
Sin Number Three
Brand loyalty is great to have, but what if you can't figure out who is making the wine because the winery has four or five different labels, and they don't have a theme that ties back to the Mother Ship?
Winemakers will take the best fruit they can and make their wines. But opportunities come up for good bulk juice, or they have grape juice that doesn't make the cut for their best wines. They will often create a second or third or fourth label for those wines, and the consumer has no idea that the maker of Brand X wine is also the winemaker for Brand Z wine.
I am not going to serve a $50 bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir every day for every meal. But I will purchase the second or third label from a winery when I know that the same winemaker of my beloved premium wine also makes an everyday wine that sells for $15 to $20. Problem is, I don't often know who is making those wines because the label doesn't tell me, nor does it connect me back to the winery.
Often wineries do not want to be associated with a second label. This is especially true in California, where cult winemakers who get hundreds of dollars for a bottle of wine, will produce a second label, discreetly, to sell the wine that did not make the grade for their premium label. They will distance themselves from that second label. This seems to be a missed opportunity to let consumers know you can produce wines both for every day and for those special occasions.
Rather than point out the wineries that are guilty of this, let me tell you who is doing it right. David O'Reilly has a number of different labels. But he has a consistency of marketing that provides me, the consumer, with some idea that it is a David O'Reilly wine or has an O'Reilly connection.
His Owen Roe label is hand-crafted and although he uses the cursed wax sealing, the label tells me it is his high-end wine. His O'Reilly wines, with the Irish wolf hound on the label are friendly and every day - same with his Abbott's Table. O'Reilly, who has the coveted gift-o'-gab and smart marketing skills, is able to tell me that he is behind these different priced, different tiered wines.
Even Sineann, a winery with a tough name to pronounce, benefits from O'Reilly's ability to market. The wines are fabulously made by Peter Rosback but O'Reilly does sales and marketing. Sineann (Shih-nay-an) fits well in the Irish theme that permeates O'Reilly's wine labels, and he has taken the time to make those labels work. It can be a tough sell for other winemakers who have day jobs or limited resources.
Oregon has wonderful independent winemakers producing great wines. But too many labels create confusion and keep that wine off the regional and national radar.
Keep it simple, keep it consistent, keep it connected and keep it real.
As always, I welcome your response.
Christina Kelly, a career newspaper journalist for more than 20 years, has been writing about wine for the past seven years and is the wine columnist for Seattle Magazine, northwest-wine.com and the Pacific Inlander newspaper to name a few.