The name game

Once upon a time there was a young winemaker in Rioja who wanted to bottle a batch of wine.  He went to his bank and asked for a loan.  The loan officer refused, explaining that wine was a risky business.  That same officer would have gladly given the young winemaker a mortgage loan for 120% of the value of his house, but that’s a different story.

Faced with this situation, the winemaker asked his friends to lend him the money, but not before creating a brand for his wine:  ‘Gran Cerdo’ (big fat pig), an allusion to his banker (and all others), telling the story on the back label calling him a ‘fat, sweaty suit’ and putting a picture of a pig on the front label.

Revenge is sweet.

This story is true and illustrates the point that to make an impression in the wine business today you not only need to tell a good story but also grab people’s attention with your label.

The new world is running rings around the old.  While the Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and Californians are the talk of the trade for their zany brand names and eye-catching labels featuring exotic reptiles and marsupials as well as insults (Fat Bastard) and plays on words (Goats do Roam (Côtes du Rhône, get it?), the old world is obsessed with titles of nobility, castles and the names of their vineyards.  In Spain, the only departure from this trend is a dizzying list of pseudo-Latin names such as Aurus, Apricus, Irius, Infinitus, Gaudium, Unnum, Zenus and the unforgettable Tremendus.

Finding an attractive brand name is a hard job and registering it to protect it from usurpation even harder.  There are a number of companies specializing in brand generation that use computers to come up with pronounceable names.

Once you have a name you have to make sure that it doesn’t mean anything offensive in another language (I especially remember the Chevrolet Nova, a flop in Spanish-speaking countries because ‘no va’ means ‘it doesn’t run’).

Two of my favorite examples of brands that wouldn’t work in Spain are the chianti classico brand ‘Cabreo’ that means ‘temper tantrum’ and the New Zealand winery Te Mata, ‘it kills you’. And I love ‘Gran Caus’ from the Penedés, south of Barcelona, whose name sounds like ‘huge chaos’ in Spanish. Maybe that’s why it’s successful.

In Rioja, as far as I know, only one company, Vintae, has really gone out on a limb to use eye-catching names and labels as marketing tools. This strategy really seems to work. Check out their website:

I hope Rioja wineries let their hair down a little more with their brand names and packaging.  Wine is a tough business but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun.

(Picture credit:



6 thoughts on “The name game

  1. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. appreciate it from the start!Thanks!

  2. Love this post! We have a special affinity for flying pigs! It’s hard to do it all when you are a small winemaker, but marketing your great story is so important! KZ

  3. This post reminds me of a story. I have a friend who works for a pharmaceutical company as a sales manager. When it was taken over by another, bigger company, many of his colleagues were informed that they would be laid off at the beggining of the following year. That Christmas, the new owners of the company sent all their employees (including the ones that were let go) a Christmas basket with goodies. Amongst them, a Cava from D.O. Priorat labelled “Acabat de Degollar” or “Recently Beheaded”… Clearly as they say in Spanish: “Una indirecta muy directa”

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