It is a pure coincidence that when I was contemplating an article to be able to justify the tagline of my blog – “An honest and sometimes idiosyncratic take on the fascinating world of wine!”, I came across this recent news article which reignited the contentious labeling laws around the wine world. It also attracted sharp reactions, particularly in this antipodean part of the globe, which in my view makes it a fascinating (or somewhat amusing, if you like) story. My analysis of this event may be considered as an honest approach or idiosyncrasy, depending on how you feel about the matter.
It all started when a wine producer from the Loire Valley in France unsuccessfully tried to register his ‘Kiwi Cuvee’ label in Australia. The word Kiwi, being so intrinsically associated with New Zealand, naturally alarmed the county’s wine representative body, the New Zealand Winegrowers Association, who lodged an appeal with their Australian counterparts. They saw it as (and rightly so) a blatant attempt to cash in on the popularity of the word which has almost become synonymous with it’s most popular wine and a national icon, the New Zealand/Marlborough/’Kiwi’ Sauvignon Blanc. A closer look at the label, which ironically has been designed by a New Zealand winemaker, reveals that the logo resembles a form of the local traditional Maori art!
Although the wines are sold as VDPs (Vin de Pays), which form the lower rung of the French wine classification system, it does signify the tremendous heights that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has achieved throughout the world. I view it as an endorsement of this fact. When was the last time the French had to borrow/imitate a brand to make a mark on the wine world? This particular instance is more significant because the producer in question comes from the spiritual home of the Sauvignon Blanc grape variety.
So, is it fair to assume that the tables have been turned? Considering that it is just a one-off attempt by a producer to gain commercial advantage, especially on the UK supermarket shelves, it is unlikely that the present dynamics and stature of various Sauvignon Blanc based wines in the world market will be affected in any way. But this incident has surely provided some free publicity, to both this particular wine producer as well as the NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Those who are aware of the Loire valley wines will agree that the Sancerres and Pouilly-Fumes have distinct characteristics of their own, especially a combination of varietal fruit structure along with a pleasant flinty minerality, a result of the soil where the vines grow (part of ‘terroir, a quintessential French jargon but is applicable to any wine ). Some of these wines are also capable of being aged resulting in added complexity. In contrast, most Marlborough Sauvignons are recognizable by their intense and vibrant aromas of passion fruits, gooseberries, green capsicum and in extreme cases, even smelly armpits. They are generally enjoyed young and hardly improve with age. Each has it’s dedicated followers with a set market although France has rested on its laurels and lagged behind while the Kiwis have created a formidable brand through aggressive marketing initiatives and have surged ahead in the popularity for its Sauvignon Blanc wines.
It is probably a timely reminder to the ‘New World’ that they should also be protective about their identity as the French have traditionally been. The Kiwis should be extra proactive on this front as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is vital to their success in the export markets and fuels the country’s wine industry. Since the wine continues to be sold around Europe, it is probably more of a reason why such issues require closer scrutiny.
France and the other ‘Old World’ countries on the other hand should make sure that the appellation laws have a provision where no one should be allowed to jeopardize a region’s or wine’s identity for petty financial gains. After all, it does not bode well for their own reputation.
Here is another post from the archive which analyzes the effect of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on the New Zealand wine industry.