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:



Castillo de Maeterra – a great niche marketing concept

img_botellaLibalisI’ve often observed that one of the most striking differences between millennials in Rioja (young adults under 30) and their parents is the younger group’s thirst for knowledge about wine. For their parents, drinking rioja has always been a patriotic act – they wouldn’t be caught dead drinking wine from anywhere else.   On the other hand, young adults in Rioja today act like young people from their age group all over the world and are willing to experiment.  This message is driven home to me every month at a wine tasting sponsored by our local newspaper LA RIOJA, where the 80 available seats are filled mostly by enthusiastic young consumers along with a sprinkling of the old guard, yours truly included .

The tasting on April 26 featured wines from a family company called Vintae, run by two young brothers. Their approach to winemaking and image is refreshing because it’s clear that they are marketing to consumers in their own age group, a strategy that wineries in the DO Rioja would be wise to imitate.

Vintae owns a winery, Castillo de Maeterra, that along with another company make up a vino de la tierra region (Vino de la Tierra Valles de Sadacia) located in the province of La Rioja – more specifically, in Rioja Baja –  but not included in the DO Rioja. These two wineries specialize in whites made with small berry muscat but are allowed to use all the white varieties permitted by the government of La Rioja (viura, chardonnay, malvasía and white garnacha). 

My tasting notes of the Castillo de Maeterra wines:

Dry Libalis 2008.  12,5%.  Muscat, viura and chardonnay. Pale yellow.  Floral aromas, hay, freshly cut grass.  Good acidity and body.  In my opinion, the mouthfeel was a little heavy for a wine with such a delicate aroma.

Libalis 2008.  12,5%.  Muscat (90%), viura (5%) and malvasía (5%).  Pale yellow.  Very attractive muscat aroma – tropical fruit and peach.  Same sensations on the palate.  Medium body.  Very well made.

Libalis rosé.  13%.  Muscat and syrah.  Intense pink.  Seems to have a very small amount of CO2.  Bubble gum nose.  Slightly sweet on the palate.  A serious product that will nevertheless please a newcomer to wine.

Barrel fermented chardonnay 2007 (experimental).  Pale yellow with a greenish tint.  Buttery, smokey nose.  Medium body, well balanced.  Reminds me of an oaked California chardonnay, but with less body.  Must try it with some fresh cod. 

Barrel fermented viognier 2008 (experimental and I think a barrel sample). Pale yellow, a little cloudy.  Nose –  heavy on the oak, not reminiscent of viognier at first but after ten minutes some “canned peach” notes come through.

Melante (late harvest) 100% muscat à petits grains.  Straw yellow with a gold tint.  Orange peels and honey.  Great  balance.

I thoroughly enjoyed the tasting.  The idea of experimenting with Rhône varietals in the hot climate of Rioja Baja seems like a good idea and I’m looking forward to future vintages to see how this idea develops. I also liked the labels, based on the petals of flowers, that are sure to attract female buyers, who, according to a number of studies, make about 80% of daily wine purchases. This is a winery to watch out for.