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BDX: Don’t Call it a Comeback … it’s a Reconquest

Last week, Wine Spectator and several international news outlets reported on recent developments in Bordeaux that merit watching. 

In a long line of plans and gambits intended to restore worldwide luster to the wine and the brand that is Bordeaux, changes are afoot … again.

In the latest attempt to stanch the bleeding of the diminished value of Bordeaux worldwide (economically and intrinsically), Bordeaux’s Wine Council (CIVB) unveiled a new strategy designed to address the stark dichotomy between the two polar realities of their wine market: the increasing value of classified growths into unobtainable and precious territory (driven by China and Japan), and the rest of their wine which is seemingly viewed like a trip to Great Grandma’s house – interesting as an antiquity, a little dusty, and not entirely contemporary (nor relevant).

Of course, it’s not a marketing program unless it has a name.  This one is called, “Bordeaux Tomorrow:  The Reconquest” which has a certain James Bond girl double entendre ring to it.

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Addressing an issue that has bedeviled French imports since time immemorial, and taking a significant page from the Aussie playbook, Bordeaux’s Wine Council is attempting to thin the herd (so to speak) by reducing poor quality wine at the very low-end while simultaneously stratifying quality into four categories and upping the friendliness of their labeling which is notoriously impenetrable to the casual wine drinker.

If the category development works and the image categories of “Art,” “Exploration,” “Fun” and “Basic” take hold, then the CIVB anticipates that production and revenue will grow correspondingly – 12 percent and 28 percent respectively with the increased revenue attributable to higher price points from higher quality.

According to the Wine Spectator reporting from the CIVB report, the Bordeaux team believes that their image needs to be more “fun,” competing more effectively with New World marketing.

Personally speaking, I view Bordeaux and Old World wines in a similar frame of reference as I do Notre Dame Football – love it or hate it, college football is better off when Notre Dame Football is winning and a part of the national conversation, even if that conversation is side taking.  You cannot truly know college football until you know the tradition of Notre Dame.  And, despite the polarizing feelings Notre Dame provokes, they make college football better for everybody. 

Likewise, the wine world is better off when Bordeaux wine means something to the majority of wine drinkers, and knowing the cradle of the Old World, where Mother’s Milk comes from, is an imperative even if wine drinkers have mixed feelings.

The Bordeaux marketing challenge is daunting, however – particularly in its current construction.  With the goals sketched out and determined to be achieved by 2018, is seven years enough time to acquaint wine drinkers with Bordeaux in its complexity, even if distilled into four categories? 

The odds are long.

Other countries like Chile, New Zealand, and Argentina aren’t going to roll over.  And, this is to say nothing of countries like Greece that want their own U.S. mindshare and slice of the sales pie.

That said, I think the CIVB folks might have their sights on treating symptoms instead of treating the root problem, at least in the states.

While the program is focused on more countries than just the U.S., the challenge state side, in my opinion, is getting wine drinkers to think of Bordeaux and Old World wines as the touchstone – Notre Dame in college football.  Anecdotally, the current day reality is actually the reverse of that.  Wine drinkers may eventually graduate to French wines, but not before they go through a long list of New World countries.

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Therefore, the Bordeaux challenge is to flip that notion and create the impression that a growing interest in wine starts in Bordeaux (or ‘BDX’ as wonks on Robert Parker’s message board call it) and then grows personalized with awareness.

However, the key to doing so is in message simplicity.  The French marketing message has always been obfuscated in a maelstrom of mixed priorities. 

Take for example the Planet Bordeaux initiative. Intended to bring awareness in the U.S., the goal of the program according to marketing organizers is, “…show Americans that Bordeaux is about more than classified growths and wine reviews.  It’s about the people who make the wine, the land that grows it and the lifestyle that surrounds it.”

Of course, these are all good goals, but the way that Planet Bordeaux is doing so is a little incongruent with the message – they are focusing on the “ABC’s” – appellations, blends and class of Bordeaux at reasonable price points.  This, of course, doesn’t completely jive with “people,” “land” and “lifestyle.”

I’m hoping for the best for Bordeaux.  Any sub-culture is better off when derivations of traditions that are co-opted are balanced by a market understanding that can pay homage to the source material.  To paraphrase Terry Theise, the New World is a movie and the Old World is the book the movie is based from – a distilled script from the nuance of a novel.  In fact, that’s the Bordeaux marketing message right there.  Repeated over and over.  Then, let consumers decide whether they want to align themselves with the glamorized Hollywood treatment, or the source material, a classic.

Most would agree that the book is always better than the movie.  Let’s hope that the Bordeaux “Reconquest” is able to achieve the same – the wine world will be better off for it.



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Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (6) |


Comments

On 08/09, Joe Herrig wrote:

Like the Notre Dame reference.  However, some argue that ND can never return to glory, because recruits choose between South Bend’s bad weather and strict academics or Southern Cal’s great weather (thus, the opposite sex in less clothing) and loose academics.

Used to be that Notre Dame could reel you in with the promise of TV exposure and a “heralded tradition”, but now every team gets plenty of exposure due to cable and satellite, and most recruits are too young to remember even ND’s power in the 80’s (man, I feel old now).

Keeping in mind this is a wine commentary and not a football one, most of Bordeaux can’t hang its hat on “tradition”.  Sure, many wine drinkers graduate to French wine, but the majority don’t get past California it seems.  It’s a “what have you done for me lately” society, and with upstarts like South America becoming the USC to BDX’s Notre Dame, a change in focus and image might be the way to go.

All this being said, I think there is charm in the “old school” persona of Bordeaux, and I hope it isn’t all destroyed (even beyond the 61 classified châteaux).  But, I certainly can’t blame these producers for trying to make a buck.

Wonder how the négociants will factor in this campaign?  Will they support the growers’ efforts?

On 08/10, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

If BDX is a classic novel, then the producers need a less-expensive mass-market version (a “paperback version,” if you will) to get the attention of the world that doesn’t really know what *good* Bourdeaux wine is about.

Instead of buying the heirloom version of a first-edition, make it compete price-wise with the $9 of a movie ticket. Once the market gains some familiarity with what BDX can do, then maybe they will explore the up-market versions (kind of like buying the director’s cut DVD with all the bells & whistles?).

On 08/11, Mart S. - Grotto Cellars wrote:

Good point, Sherman! I like the idea with regards in marketing especially all prices right now are going up! Cheers!

On 08/11, Lisa Mattson wrote:

BDX taking the “fun” train?

I realize we are an established California estate with far less history, but our advice is this: just be authentic, transparent and true to who you are. Identify your stories and be good at telling them.

Lisa
The Journey of Jordan: a wine and food video blog

On 08/16, Rodney Gagnon wrote:

I actually like the ND analogy without over thinking it.  I also think Lisa Mattson’s comment is spot on.  You can market (or critter logo) all you want, but you are who you are.  Eventually, the emperor’s nudity is revealed.  Authenticity wins.  But, what is required, is balance.

The balance is between old (Traditional Medoc/Pomerol “art”) and new (Saint Emilion Garagistes “fun”).

All these points (post/comments) are not lost on me, but I have to admit that Planet Bordeaux’s message resonates.  Perhaps, because I have had contact with the growers and am experiencing life in Bordeaux (as an american) right now.  However, I must admit that I haven’t witnessed their implementation yet.  Now It is in my calendar. (Perhaps I’ll follow up this comment after).  La Winery (http://www.lawinery.fr) might be another “world-of-wine” as compared to Bordeaux experience that helps the cause.

You get the sense here that some of the CIVB’s efforts are “more of the same, but this time with feeling”.  Expand, contract, expand, contract.  Better product, higher margins, yeah, yeah, yeah…  Hardly innovative.  But remember, this is France.  I’ve had to learn to take my American goggles off and appreciate the local terroir (pun intended)

Closing the gap between idea and implementation is always the challenge.

My €0.017

-Rodney

p.s. Drink more Bordeaux wink

On 08/18, Rodney Gagnon wrote:

Just a quick follow on re: my Planet Hollywood, ah I mean Planete Bordeaux, visit.  I totally see your point here and I misread your initial comment re: incongruence with the “people,” “land” and “lifestyle” message.  I was hopeful without having too many expectations and was left without any further feeling of connection with the “place” that I had hoped to experience.  The tour was a semi-generic wine region/making PBS special,  the tasting was ok and they have a vast selection of wines from which to purchase.  It’s kind of a ride with a wine store at the end.  More Six Flags than Disney.


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