Shopping At The Zoo (November 25, 2004)
If I owned a winery I would make a soft, over-extracted, jammy red wine
and call it Puking Vulture.
I'd put a picture of the bird projectile vomiting on the label, charge
$11.95 a bottle and I'd make a fortune.
Unfortunately, it has come to this. Gone are the days when a wine was
simply named after the village or commune where it was produced (as they
do in Europe) or by the grape variety from which it was made (New World
In order to stand out on the shelves vintners are desperately trying
to out do each other in the quest for outrageous names based on anti-social
animal behaviour. The inspiration for wine names these days seems to be
the jungle, paddock, forest or ocean rather than the vineyard. The marketers
have gone loony and taken over the winery. I suspect their rationale is
if they can dream up a mildly offensive name that just squeaks by Canadian
liquor board regulations (or BATF guidelines in the US) consumers will
buy the product for its shock value and who cares what's in the bottle.
The end is wine as conversation piece and once you've pulled the cork
you can always dump the contents in the salad bowl.
The current bestiary-naming vogue reminds me of the Baby Duck phenomenon
of the late 1970s. When that little yellow quacker took off as no other
wine in Canada has done since, our wineries fell over each other to replicate
the style as well as the name of Andres' best-selling pop wine. We had
endless knock-offs like Baby Bear, Baby Deer, Gimli Goose, Pink Flamingo
and even Fuddle Duck (thanks to Pierre Trudeau's famous parliamentary
Now the wheel has turned full circle and we have an entire category of
wines that belong in a menagerie or an aquarium rather than in your cellar.
Here is a sampling of some of the names you'll find on labels you'll need
sunglasses to read:
- Smoking Loon Syrah (California)
- Black Swan Shiraz (Australia)
- Fat Bastard Chardonnay - with a Hippo on the label (Languedoc)
- Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
- Yellow Tail Shiraz (kangaroo) (Australia)
- Bad Dog Rosé (Languedoc)
- Big Moose Red (California)
- King Fish Shiraz (California)
- Little Penguin Chardonnay (Australia)
- Fat Cat Chardonnay (New Zealand)
- Thirsty Lizard Shiraz Rosé (Australia)
And then you have Old Fart (red) and Old Tart (white) from the Côtes
du Ventoux which are on sale in Alberta and Nova Scotia (but turned down
At least there was a good story behind the Australian winery Yarra Burn
calling its Pinot Noir "Bastard Hill." When asked to harvest
the grapes from that particular vineyard with its mountain-goat slope,
one Aussie picker exclaimed, "Not that bastard hill again!"
and the name stuck.
On the subject of Australia, Yellow Tail Shiraz, which was launched in
British Columbia in 2003, is now the top-selling Australian red in that
market, and the sister white, Chardonnay, is the second-top seller in
that category. Yellow Tail Shiraz is a top-selling red in Ontario and
Nova Scotia. They estimate the brand will sell 300,000 cases this year
in Canada and 750,000 cases by 2007! Which means of course there will
be a flood of imitators searching for other animals to exploit.
Lest I be accused of old fogeyism, let me say that I am a great admirer
of the humourous, punning labels of Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon. Wit on
a wine label is one thing; having the vinous equivalent of rap lyrics
on a bottle is another.
You will notice that all of the examples cited above are from New World
wineries and Languedoc-Roussillon, which might as well be New World.
The rest of the planet relies on the quality of the wine in the bottle
to sell their product.
I fear, however, that the success of these wines will catch the attention
of our own marketing gurus. So what can we expect from Canadian wineries?
Belching Beaver, Blue Caribou, Cantankerous Cod?
Wine is not a pet or a zoo animal. Wine is wine. Leave it to the Milk
Marketing Board to anthropomorphize their product as The Little Blue Cow
incidentally, Canada's best hope for medals at the Beijing Olympics
in 2008. On second thoughts, maybe that jammy red wine I'd make should
be called Peking Vulture.