Bordeaux is a deeply traditional wine region. That applies to both wine and presentation, with the labels of the top estates almost invariably rather plain, featuring a line-drawing of a magnificent châteaux, or an aristrocratic family-crest. It’s a well-mannered region where even a change of background colour on an historic label, from cream to white, is seen as radical and worthy of a full-blown press release.
Bordeaux produces a massive amount of wine below the elite level, and whilst many of the petits châteaux follow the same hyper-traditional model, there is a veritable sea of less expensive Bordeaux, made by very large companies. A few of those have made an attempt to create more distinctive, modern brands, from Mouton Cadet to ‘Dourthe No1’. So some in Bordeaux are at least trying to embrace the world of branding – not quite Yellowtail or Blossom Hill, but trying engage a new consumer.
You will notice that these Bordeaux brands have not exactly gone overboard, sticking with a rather reserved, undoubtedly elegant, but in many ways slightly dull makeover. Nothing wrong with that, but such polite and discreet branding is unlikely to reach young consumers brought up on the wines of New Zealand, California or Chile, with their striking labels and evocative names.
Popcorn and Block One
Where there seems to have been even less innovation in packaging and presentation is among the many thousands of small, family domaines in Bordeaux (there are thought to be around 6,000 wine estates across the region). Of course creating a brand from scratch is not easy, nor is taking on established brand leaders, and I imagine many family estates have wrestled with the concept of sublimating the historic family or château name in favour of a ‘fantasy’ brand name. But some bold producers are doing just that.
I reported last year on the range of wines from Adrien Surain, who had recently taken over winemaking duties at his family’s estate. Farming 12 hectares of AOC Bordeaux, not far from St Emilion, the family cultivates its vines without herbacides and has been farming vines since the 1920s. Adrien is the fourth generation, and has basically stepped-in to save or rescue the struggling business. Giving up his career in IT in Hong Kong, he moved back to Bordeaux determined to modernise the vineyards and winery and, crucially, to create powerful new brands. As he told me at the time, “Since I started making wine three years ago, I keep hearing that Bordeaux wines are out of date, not fun, too technical, too expensive and not sexy.” So his Popcorn label was born, followed by the slightly awkwardly-named ‘News Drinker’, a Merlot made with no added sulphur.
Another family estate is shaking things up in terms of its presentation, but with a very different story. Paradise Rescued is the name of Englishman David Stannard’s estate in Bordeaux, which has similarities to Château Surain: based on the right bank; focused on Merlot and Cabernet Franc; wines in a similar price range.
David, an engineer, lives with his family in Australia, but they purchased a holiday home in the village of Cardan, 35-kilometres south of Bordeaux, in 1992. Redevelopment of the area and something of a local property boom was in danger of destroying the many small plots of vineyard around David’s home, so working closely with the local community, the family set about purchasing the surrounding vineyard area, plot by plot, in order to retain it and at the same time convert it to a well-managed, organically-certified vineyard.
A small range of wines under the ‘Cloud 9’ brand was launched in Australia with the 2010 vintage, and now the wines tasted here – Block One and Block Two – are also available in the UK and more widely. Some of the vineyards are very old indeed, planted in the 1950s, though more have been replanted on the three sites they farm surrounding their property. Mother and daughter team Pascale and Albane Bervas tend the vineyards. Albane, who has degrees in viticulture and winemaking, is winemaker.