Sometimes confusion reigns

As Australia defines it wines regions in law, the Geographic Indications Committee, according to its permanent member, Ian Mackley, intends to use the law to enforce label integrity.

Enforcement, he says, will attempt to stamp out the rare, but when it does occur, misleading use of a winery address to suggest a prestigious district of origin.

Fortunately, fraudulent and misleading labelling appear to have been uncommon in Australia. Stupidity, bad judgement, poor label design and inadequate marketing have been far more prevalent, especially during the late seventies and eighties as wine consumption really exploded.

There were fewer established brands then than now, and often, rather than risk the launching of a new name, marketers expanded production, at the expense of quality, of known products.

In hindsight, there are many examples of good brands snuffed out, or temporarily corrupted. Remember Seppelts Moyston Claret. Originally it was a powerful, long-lived red from the Great Western district, Victoria. But it was ruined as a name as it stumbled from one identity to another.

Seaview was another brand to suffer as volumes grew, and grape origin shifted out of McLaren Vale in the late seventies and early eighties. However, it has been totally revived, first of all in quality under the ownership of Penfolds (now Southcorp) then in regional identity. Recent vintages are all sourced from McLaren Vale and the brand is back where it belongs. That integration of brand with region gives consumers a reason to buy and the maker the opportunity to earn a better return.

Leo Buring was another brand to lose direction. Numerous new Buring labels joined the discount fray in the eighties so that eventually nobody new what Burings stood for. The idea of a brand, after all, is to reassure the consumer — to signal a consistent quality message and identity.

Burings, too, recovered, again under Southcorp ownership. The brand now stands for a small range of high quality Barossa and Eden Valley reds and whites.

Overall, wine branding now seems clearer than what it was ten years ago. Labels generally carry more useful information than they used to. But some confusion still exists.

In some ways this article is an open letter, on behalf of wine drinkers, to Jean Louis Lepeltier, energetic new head of Orlando Wyndham wine group. Some aspects of the group’s revitalised Richmond Grove brand confuse me. And if they confuse somebody in daily contact with the industry, how confusing must they be to the casual wine drinker?

Firstly, this is not a complaint about the quality of Richmond Grove wines. The wines offer good value and several notable highlights. My only complaint is about identity.

Originally Richmond Grove was associated with the Hunter and several of its labels still have that association. Then, Orlando Wyndham’s remarkable Cowra Vineyard was named Richmond Grove and a Richmond Grove Cowra label hit the market.

Later still, Orlando Wyndham acquired Leo Burings old Chateau Leonay winery on the outskirts of Tanunda in the Barossa Valley. And as the vendor, Southcorp wines, kept both the Buring and Chateau Leonay names, Orlando renamed the winery Richmond Grove. So now we have Hunter Richmond Grove, Cowra Richmond Grove, and Barossa Valley Richmond Grove.

And there’s more confusion. The brands new livery includes on the neck label a picture of the old Chateau Leonay with the words “Barossa Valley Winery”.

So, I can now walk into a retail store and buy quite a range of Richmond Grove wines with this “Barossa Valley Winery” label: there’s a Coonawarra Cabernet, a Watervale (southern Clare Valley) Rhine Riesling, a Barossa Valley Rhine Riesling, and now a multi-region Pinot Chardonnay NV Brut. The Cowra wines, though, have their own label.

It should be said again that the wines are good. And the rieslings, made by John Vickery in the Barossa winery, offer exceptional quality and value.

And there is no question as to Orlando Wyndham’s honesty. If the label is confusing, there has certainly never been any hesitation when it comes to providing region-of-origin details for any of the wines, on request.

They own great vineyards and employ some of the most distinguished wine makers in the country — John Vickery and Phil Laffer, for example.

I suppose my point to Mr Lepeltier is that not everybody has time to go looking for details of origin. And some of us seeing “Barossa Valley Winery” on a front label might assume that to be the origin of the wine in the bottle.