March 18, 2012

Amazing stories of great wine brands

Passion for wine and business. Two sides of winemaking throughout history. When ingeniously combined, a great and celebrated wine can be born. But great brands? Is it passion for wine or is it passion for business behind such achievements?

The Ho Bryan story
One of the stories fascinating me on this theme is the one about “Ho Bryan”. A history stretching centuries back in time. And a story about a brand still on top after 350 years. It must be the first example of conscious brand building in the world of wine. 

Hugh Johnson has described the remarkable rise of this luxury brand in the book I love most when it comes to wine history; “The Story of Wine”. 

We start around the year 1200. London had then reached the position as the prime export market of Bordeaux wine. The position was realised after a chain of events, which began when the incredible Eleanor of Aquitaine became Queen of England in 1154. It continued when King Richard, known as Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor’s son, wanted wine from Bordeaux to be served on the tables of the royal English court. And was accomplished in 1203 when John Lackland, the next king of England, and the youngest son of Eleanor, removed the heavy taxes on wine exported from the harbour of Bordeaux. His decision opened the gates to London. The claret flowed north, but it was still of ordinary, everyday quality.

We move forward to the 1660s and give the stage for Arnaud de Pontac. Head of the Parliament of Bordeaux and a man determined to take the family wine business to new heights. His plan involved ingredients well known to many modern brand builders. 

Strategy for a luxury brand
Arnaud started to differentiate his product from the competitors’ by raising the quality. “Ho Bryan” was a dark coloured wine with a power that outperformed the previously known standard. There were no lack of resources to put into the production, so the quality was presumably achieved by selecting the best grapes and perfecting the winemaking methods. 

Additionally, Arnaud took a completely new approach in wine business, when he as the first producer put a trade mark on his wine. It was carefully chosen to show the origin of the wine. The name was that of his family estate south of the town of Bordeaux. 

The strategy was to create high demand in England, so marketing was needed. Arnaud selected the channel carefully and put it in total control of the family. In 1666 he opened an exclusive inn, the first real restaurant in London. At “Pontack’s Head” the food and wine were exquisite. So was the price tag. “Ho Bryan” was sold at a price more than three times of an ordinary wine. Arnaud positioned his wine as top-of-the-line, aiming for the market of affluent citizens. 

The success came quickly. A luxury brand was born. London cried for Arnaud’s prime brand “Ho Bryan”, as well as the “Pontac” produced at his other estates. The demand drove prices to ever higher levels. 

The wine, yes, it is the Haut-Brion. One of the five premier crus of Bordeaux. Still on top after hundreds of years. And an amazing history of the creation of a great brand.

Fun and easy
The story triggers me to think of a more recent example of successful brand building in our contemporary global world of wine. We move to the other side of the range. From luxury to wines positioned to attract a larger group of people. A group even larger than the traditional wine consumers. The Australian, family owned, Casella Wines has really succeeded in their aim to provide "a fun and easy to drink wine of great value to everyone". 

The [yellow tail] brand has since the start in 2001 become a huge success. Available in more than 50 countries and the top selling wine in the US. More than ten million cases are produced every year. And, can you imagine, as much as ten per cent of the Australian grape harvest goes to the production of [yellow tail] wines! 

Passion for wine
Two different eras. Two different approaches. But still basically the same; an ocean of growth and business success created by a clear branding strategy. 

Brand building and market success in the wine business. What is the key driving force? A passion for wine or a passion for business? Hopefully both. What do you think?

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