Thursday, February 04, 2010

Chocolate, coffee & sex in wine

04 February 2010 by Mike Ratcliffe
While travelling, I often find time to think. To ponder is perhaps a more appropriate description of the processes that my mind engages in when dealing with the archaic travel and security restrictions that we are forced to deal with through the airports of the world. So it is that I have been pondering the meaning of the trends that are driving the South African wine industry.
One of the biggest trends is the emergence of the 'flavoured wine' category. By 'flavoured' I refer to the seemingly unstoppable rise to prominence of the coffee, chocolate and now jam flavoured wines that are starting to take market share from other non-flavoured wines.
Wow - OK, this is becoming a contentious column and I might have to start choosing my words carefully. There may be many who would claim that this category does not actually exist because 'flavoured' would imply that artificial flavours would therefore have had to be introduced which would go against the apparent rules or norms that drive our industry. My understanding is that the 'flavoured' category is in fact not 'flavoured'. In fact, these are merely wines that are marketing themselves based on some of the 'flavours' which appear to naturally occur in the wines - which makes perfect sense to me.
In appealing to the average punter, it would make perfect sense to sell the wine based on the flavour that they will perceive (cherry cola, Fanta grape) when they are experiencing the product. So the category is really a marketing creation driven by a group of winemakers that have identified a specific flavour attribute in their wine that they would consider so sufficiently distinctive that they can drive all of their marketing efforts based on this attribute. Was Fanta Grape created by a lab assistant having a Eureka moment when experimenting on alternative Fanta incarnations? Did he suddenly discover that adding purple food colouring to Orange Fanta suddenly made it actually tasted like grape? Et voila - a new category!
No, of course not, perhaps this momentum was started in that way by the early Wellington exploits of David Sonnenburgh (ex Woolworths) and the category is now on fire. Woolworths has long known that the best way to sell wine is not by exploiting the terroir, the famous winemaker or the variety - no way José. Next time you are in Woolies look at the labels "Perky Pink', 'Juicy red' and then also read the back label text which uses words like yummy, delicious & succulent while avoiding terms like 'harvested at optimum ripeness'.
NEXT I will discuss what came first - the flavour or the category?
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