As someone who has worked in media all my life, I pay particular attention to branding. And I mean all branding, not just wines. Branding is the motivating factor, the engine that drives success for all media, all product, all for-profit enterprise in our time. Look at Tik-Tok, Insta, any social media. If you’re on it you are there to build brand awareness for yourself, your company or your product.
Check out sports personalities, entertainers and broadcasters of all stripes. They are only as successful (meaning they are paid really well and they get to keep their jobs) as their personal brand coupled to the brand of their employer. You say you’re a musician? You’re either a rock STAR or just some yahoo with an electric guitar. You’re an artist? Your stuff sells for big bucks at Gagosian or you’re fighting for space to hang a few drawings at the local coffee shop. I could go on and on but you get the point. Branding matters. And one of the big drivers for branding is packaging.
I began chewing on this while strolling down the shampoo aisle of my local grocery. Anyone who regularly does the family shopping is well aware that store shelves are groaning with too many options. Where you once had a favorite brand among maybe a half dozen choices, your favorite brand alone now has more than a dozen variations. Whether it’s breakfast cereal or toothpaste, the sheer number of choices for most every day items is mind-numbing.
So there I am, looking for a new shampoo. There are dozens and dozens of bottles across several long shelves, and I don’t have a clue which to choose. Suddenly a cluster of shampoos catches my eye. Packaging – the key to product branding! Intriguing graphics and catchy names: Bearglove… Tigerclaw… NightPanther!
Hold on. Am I in the shampoo aisle or have I gone through a wormhole into the gift shop at the zoo? Whatever – you had me at NightPanther. I mean, it’s shampoo, how bad can it be? I want the name and the fantasy that goes with it. Sold!
In this regard I suggest that marketing wine is no different from marketing shampoo. Other than cult wines which appeal by virtue of name and score to a diminishing slice of aging consumers, most wines are sold to folks speed-cruising the wine aisle at the grocery store hoping to grab something to have with dinner. Price matters, shelf placement matters, and packaging matters. What counts the most as far as successful wine packaging? I’d say it’s the label’s graphic design and the name on the bottle. Same as shampoo.
Look at some top-selling supermarket wines: Barefoot… Prisoner… Winking Owl… 19 Crimes… Freakshow. No relation whatsoever to the actual product. Don’t get me wrong – I am not suggesting that any small winery with an eye on quality over quantity should re-brand with a trendy if meaningless name. But I am suggesting that every winery should take a close hard look at their label design and brand name. Why not put that on your list of New Year’s resolutions? Something to ponder during dry January.
A lot of wineries put family names on their wines, names that are often difficult to pronounce, impossible to remember and simply confusing. I see far too many label designs that are virtually unreadable. Black type on a black background is not all that rare. So if you haven’t recently taken a good look at your package, why not ask someone impartial – not a partner, employee or friend – to honestly evaluate your label. In fact, ask several someones, and (if you can find them) people with genuine branding expertise. It will at the very least help you avoid expensive mistakes.
In my last post I noted that when a winery submits wines with more than minimal (or no) information and sends me more background on the estate, the winemaking, the ownership, the history – in other words more story – that’s likely to be a wine that gets extra attention and a more interesting write-up. I’ll follow up with a look at new releases from two I’ve admired for years and one interesting newcomer.
Day 2022 Dazzles of Light White Wine – This new blend includes 63% Chardonnay, 25% Sauvignon Blanc and 12% Melon de Bourgogne. The fruit power and zesty freshness make it imperative to drink this one while it’s young. Tangy lemon, white peach, a hint of honeycomb and a dash of white pepper are in play, the juicy acids softened just a bit by brief aging in neutral barrels. 12.5%; $27 (Oregon) 92/100
Day 2021 Belle Pente Vineyard Chardonnay – Brianne Day’s Chardonnays have a unique stamp on them, a feral quality that deftly brings scents and flavors of pollen, herb, citrus rind and spice into the forefront. There’s plenty of ripe fruit here, and it’s all done without hitting 13% alcohol. I can remember when finding Chardonnays under 14% was difficult, and those wines were often green and herbaceous to a fault. The current generation of Oregon winemakers has figured out a better way. This superb Chardonnay is vibrant, racy, complex and long. I’ll let you dive into it to find all the flavors – trust me, they’re there in abundance. 12.6%; $48 (Yamhill-Carlton) 94/100
Day 2021 Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir – The fruit from this much-admired biodynamic vineyard gets careful treatment here. Sometimes biodynamic wines can be overblown, with so much wildness that the innate fruit flavors are lost. Not so here; this is supple, sexy Pinot Noir, a fine meld of raspberry and wild strawberry fruit, clean acids and a textured base of earth and herbs and dried leaves. The wine keeps adding highlights through the finish, suggesting that additional bottle age will bring out even further complexity. 13%; $56 (McMinnville) 93/100
Maysara 2019 Mahtaub Whole Cluster Pinot Noir – Full disclosure: past vintages of Maysara’s Mahtaub have not appealed to me. This 2019 seems to be a big jump forward; the whole cluster fermentation with native yeasts keeps it in the same lane as previously, but now with better phenolic control, more clean fruit and overall balance. The flavors mix cherry fruit, composted earth, coffee grounds and astringent minerality. It stands distinctly apart from the winery’s other Pinots while staying true to the terroir of this biodynamic estate and the McMinnville AVA. 280 cases; 13.7%; $60 (McMinnville) 92/100
Maysara 2019 Delara Pinot Noir – Like the Asha, the Delara is held back for extra years of bottle age, so this is the current (December 2023) release. I last tasted this cuvée four vintages ago – the 2015 – so it’s not clear if this reserve-level (Pommard clone, old vine) wine is made every year or less frequently. Layered and complex, it mixes tart fruit flavors of raspberries, blackberries and black cherries, accented with citrus, skins and underscored with hints of Asian spices (one quarter of the barrels were new). The tannins carry a streak of black tea. This is a complicated, demanding, strong and important wine. 96 cases; 13.7%, $95 (McMinnville) 95/100
Maysara 2016 Asha Pinot Noir – This is the current release of Asha (as of late 2023). It’s bigger and riper than the 2015, from a stronger vintage. And after five years in bottle, it has shed any rough edges and is a smooth, supple and complex mouthful of delicious Pinot flavor. It leads with a mix of blackberries, pie cherries, blood orange, plums and even some apricot jam. There’s a seam of smoke threading through the trailing finish, which lingers seductively in the back of the throat. Very highly recommended. This wine will get better the longer it’s open. 580 cases; 13.9% $58 (McMinnville) 96/100
Out of the blue came this engaging note from Julie Bosma a few weeks ago.
“This is Julie Bosma from Bosma Estate Winery, a small batch winery in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Founded in 2016, we started with 3 varietals that were grown on our Bosma Estate Vineyard. Now we have 11 offerings available in the bottle and 3 additional offerings still in barrel. Our venture into winemaking started from the vineyard side.
“In 2005 my husband Steve and I purchased a farm with 10 acres of wine grapes. We have always enjoyed drinking wine and have many close contacts in the wine industry, but this was our first foray into growing wine grapes. We loved it! It was so exhilarating to learn how our efforts in the vineyard translated into the bottle and to experience different winemakers’ approaches to our grapes. We then planted Diamondback Ridge vineyard in 2015, and we haven’t stopped planting yet. Most of our grapes are sold to other boutique wineries throughout the Pacific Northwest, but we keep a few gems for ourselves.
“Steve and I decided that we’d like to make our own wine so we could explore the clonal variations of the grapes more fully. On Diamondback Ridge, we planted six different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and two different clones of Malbec. For our Cabernet Sauvignon we pick each clone separately at the same brix, ferment each separately with the same yeast and method, and then age each separately in the same barrel type. After 18 months in oak, we then taste each clone to distinguish its unique expression and blend them into our Cabernet Sauvignon Clonal Blend. If one clone or another doesn’t enhance the blend and it is more special on its own, we will bottle that one separately.
“I don’t need to tell you that the Rattlesnake Hills AVA has a little less acclaim than other AVA’s of late. I would like to utilize your expertise to shine a spotlight on this underappreciated growing region. As a small batch winery, we don’t make every variety every year.”
PG: Julie is right as far as a dearth of broad acclaim for Rattlesnake Hills wines (the AVA is a sub-set of the larger Yakima Valley AVA). Other than Sheridan, Andrew Will and one or two others I can’t even name a quality brand headquartered in the region. And yet there have been some world class bottles from time to time. In all honesty I would need to taste a much wider representation of current Rattlesnake Hills wines before I would spotlight or even critique the region. But tasting multiple vintages of 15 different Bosma wines, a few clear winners were easy to pick. Unsurprisingly, Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape that shines brightest.
Bosma 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon – The grapes were sourced from the Diamondback Ridge vineyard, and this wine was released in the Fall of 2019. It’s one of the best of the winery Cabs, maybe because it’s got a bit of bottle age and the abv is a more moderate 14.3%. I like the detail and texture, the highlights of citrus and the core flavors of crushed strawberries. The overall balance is spot on. Drink now and over the next five years. 97 cases; 14.3%; $42 (Rattlesnake Hills) 90/100
Bosma 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon – Also sourced from the Diamondback Ridge vineyard, this wine was released in the Fall of 2020. It’s a ripe, rich, full-bodied Cab, with plenty of red and black fruits and a wash of chocolatey oak. There’s a vein of cinnamon spice running down the center palate, and the tannins are ripe and proportionate. This wine has the structure to drink well through the rest of this decade. 185 cases; 14.9%; $42 (Rattlesnake Hills) 91/100
Bosma 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon – Sourced from the Diamondback Ridge vineyard and released in the Fall of 2021. It’s closer to the 2017 than the 2018 but all three are nicely reflective of both vineyard and winemaking style. This is especially spicy with a deep vein of cinnamon, cherry and cassis fruit and accents of toast and coffee. All in all it’s a palate-pleasing wine with ripe tannins and good length. 145 cases; 14.5%; $42 (Rattlesnake Hills) 90/100
Bosma 2017 Sidewinder Syrah – From the original estate vineyard (first planted in 1994), this was released in the spring of 2019. These old vines deliver the goods – classic varietal flavors, punchy fruits with highlights of cold coffee, anise and charred earth. This vintage is hitting a good window for Syrah at six years of age. In terms of style and structure it’s a good match for some of the Boushey Syrahs from the eastern end of the valley. 70 cases; 15.3%; $36 (Rattlesnake Hills) 91/100
Featured Value Wine
This new feature will spotlight a different value wine with every post. Please let me know if you have suggestions for future special value wines. For this feature only I may include wines from around the world as well as the Pacific Northwest.
L’Ecole 2022 Semillon – Compiled from seven different sites scattered across the Columbia Valley, this elegant white wine is lightly dappled with baking spices, lending it an apple pie flavor. The lemony acids bring freshness, and the addition of 18% Sauvignon Blanc adds touches of clean herbs. If you’re looking for a versatile dry white wine not called Chardonnay, this is a great choice and a fine value. 5500 cases; 13.5%; $18 (Columbia Valley) 91/100