Despite winegrowers constantly being urged to “tell your story”.
As consumers, we all want background details about our favourite wines: the history of the winery; the identity of the owners; how they grow their grapes and make their wines; their challenges and triumphs. At least, that’s the marketing theory.
I once asked Hugh Johnson, for decades the world’s best-selling wine writer, about the key to his success. “Always tell a story,” he replied. For wine producers, the message is similar: tell your story, and make it a telling story.
That’s the approach being adopted by Australia’s First Families of Wine, a collective of 12 multigenerational, family-owned producers. After a dinner hosted by the group, Mike Veseth, the US-based editor of the blog The Wine Economist, wrote about how he enjoyed the families “telling their stories up close and personal … There is real wine in real glasses; real people tell their stories and make their case.”
But how reliable are the stories? One multinational operating here, which has snapped up several long-established brands, recently confused the date of arrival in this country of one of the immigrant founders with that of his eventual plunge into wine production. Thousands of back labels were printed, featuring a date for the company’s first vintage that was wrong by 28 years.
One well-regarded producer in Central Otago criticised wine writers for penning lists of tasting notes, rather than telling winemaking stories. Yet the same winemaker is reluctant to divulge the name of the company’s majority shareholder, on the grounds that he is “a private person”.
The wine correspondent for London’s Sunday Telegraph for 16 years, Robert Joseph believed that his readers wanted to know about the places and people behind wine labels. His editor told him repeatedly that they just wanted advice on what to buy.
“When I began to think about the reality of this wine-needs-story mantra, I increasingly saw my editor’s point. Quality, style, price and the impression one might make on friends all come higher on most people’s lists than any kind of story”.
Wine of the week
Bannock Brae Marlene’s Gruner 2015 ••••½
From gruner veltliner – Austria’s favourite white-wine variety – this Central Otago wine is full of personality. Fermented in old barrels, it is full-bodied, with fresh, rich, citrusy, peachy, gently spicy flavours, a “salty” streak and an appetisingly dry finish. $25
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