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Quelle Horreur! French Wine with Cutesy Labels

Posted by perle0 on 2006-08-03 14:04:54 (3611 views)

Let's be frank...the French make some damned good wine. But sales, especially in the lower end of the market, have been slumping; everyone wants a first-cru Bordeaux, but not everyone wants a vin de table that's the Gallic equivalent of Gallo Hearty Burgundy.

Some French winemakers think they may have the solution: instead of snobby names of obscure French regions and vinyards, give your wine a funny name and a whimsical label, to appeal to supermarket shoppers in far-away lands who don't speak French and wouldn't know a Burgundy from a Barsac, and won't pay more than $10/bottle for a wine under most circumstances.

You may already be familiar with Red Bicyclette (it's available at a Wal-Mart near me!), but how about Arrogant Frog--a label that has a little fun with the French stereotype and ethnic nickname?

At the top end of the market, things are going well. The 2005 Bordeaux vintage is fetching record prices in the futures market. Further down the scale, however, prospects are grim.
So great is the grape glut that the EU wants to dig up some vineyards and convert part of the wine lake into industrial fuel.

Rather than face that humiliation, French producers are listening with gritted teeth to the marketing gurus.

"Bread is branded," said Pierre Courbon, marketing director of a French company pitching a new brand called Chamarre. "Why not wine?"

Domestic resistance will be fierce, however, particularly to bottles such as Arrogant Frog.

"I was shocked," said Heidi Vincent of Chateau Online, an internet wineseller. The label shows an imperious-looking frog in an overcoat. It is available in "ribet red" and "ribet white".

This sort of marketing is not the only thing calculated to set some French oenophiles ranting about the end of civilisation. It's also sealed with a screw cap...the very antithesis of French tradition and charm.

Jean-Claude Mas, the creator, is said to be still getting on with his neighbours.

Another new brand, Elephant on a Tightrope, is all about "balance", a popular word among winemakers, according to its producers. Elephants are known for their balance and extraordinary sense of smell.

The animal fad can be traced to Australian wines. Yellow Tail - featuring a wallaby on the label -has become the top-selling imported wine in the US, selling more than 7.5 million cases last year.

Many of these new faddish wines--such as Red Bicyclette and Arrogant Frog--seem to come from the Languedoc, a region with relatively few of the appelations that appeal to lovers of high-end French wine. It might be a while before you see a nice Bordeaux called something like Elegant Dodo.


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