A Place For Every Wine

When Does an Appellation Become a Brand?

Have you ever considered whether an appellation could be a brand?  The psychological impact determines your attraction to bottles on the shelf or on a wine list – an attraction we often don’t recognize.

An appellation indicates a delimited, possibly political region that has similar soils and climate. When the appropriate fruit varieties and vineyard/winery techniques are used, these wines should have more than a passing resemblance in style and quality. While producers vary in vision and ability, a Napa Valley Cabernet, Meursault or Mendoza Malbec should have a similar flavor profile to other examples from the same appellation. More respected appellations are recognized by the consumer for offering wine in a certain style and quality level that is appealing, with their value worth the higher asking price.

The establishment of Appellation Controlee laws in France in the first two decades of the 20th Century was intended to prevent adulteration and fraud and to ensure higher profitability for the producer. The description of “place/name control” simply means the wine in the bottle is exactly what is indicated by the label. It further means that there are standards to which the wine is made, those of fruit sourced within the region, specific grape varietal(s), viticultural techniques, yield/ripeness/minimum alcohol strengths and production methods.

While New World appellations don’t often set minimum ripeness or yield requirements due to their warmer climate and assured sugar at harvest, the concept is similar when it comes to regions set by soil and climate. The added value of the appellation is apparent for those producers just outside the region. Their products don’t garner the same profit and demand for their releases.

A brand can mean several things. The Bass Ale red triangle is the first recognized brand, registered in 1875. The unique symbol set this product apart from its competition, enabling consumers to easily find the product and remember it whenever they saw the logo. Branding is done to add value and build a relationship with the consumer, that of trust and expectations. You know what to expect when you purchase your favorite wine because something in the package, label, logo or name speaks to you as a consumer. Human behavior is predictable, and marketers can reach a target audience and build sales by our anticipated reactions.

There are small-volume brands and large-volume brands. They can be in many different styles and price points. What sets them apart are their aspects that draws a specific consumer base to purchase them. One of the main aspects is something recognizable to immediately separate them from their competition. The Yellowtail Kangaroo, the Moet Star, the cape-covered Don of Sandeman and the sundial of J.J. Prum all instantly make those products unmistakable.

Champagne and fortified wines are very strongly marketed based on branding.  Other products are not as dependent on it. Think of how many known brands there are of Burgundy versus those of Champagne. Wine is also not as strongly branded as other products. Wine has an ocean of different brands while toothpaste offers myriad styles by about five major brands.

So is appellation a brand? It can be argued that it is. Willamette Valley is recognizable and speaks to a target audience. While the name is in print and not a logo per se, it still will determine consumer appeal. There are also regions of Spain that use a logo of the region on a separate bottle sticker to increase sales from that appellation.

Whatever is put on the package to speak to the consumer, can certainly become part of a brand.

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