Devil’s Advocate: Wine, Factories and Brands

Robert Joseph takes a whimsical look at some of the language that's used - and not used - in the wine industry - and the exceptionalism it reveals.

Reading time: 2m 15s

Robert Joseph with horns
Robert Joseph with horns

“What’s that factory?”

“It’s not a factory. It’s a winery.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Wine is an artisan product, not an industrial one.”

“But that’s a huge place with lots of sophisticated stainless steel equipment and enormous tanks. It looks pretty industrial to me. Do they really do everything manually?”

“Not exactly.”

“Do they, at least harvest the grapes by hand?”

“No, that’s done by machine.”

“Do they do anything by hand?”

“Yes, the pruning. But they’re looking forward to introducing robots that can do that. Then the whole process will be almost completely automated.”

“So, then it’ll be a factory?”

“No, because wine is made in a winery. Or, if you’d prefer, in a ‘cellar’”

“Aren’t cellars supposed to be underground?”

“Look at those cows”




“So, which are the most successful brands in Bordeaux?”

“Probably Mouton Cadet, Baron de Lestac and Malesan.”

“Yeah, but they’re supermarket brands. Which are the most successful premium and super-premium brands?”

“You mean the chateaux? They’re not brands. They’re 'fine wines'. And, in France, fine wines aren’t brands.”

“But surely Dom Perignon and Salon are fine wines and brands.”

“We look at Champagne differently. There they have brands – les Grandes Marques de Champagne’. But Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Angelus aren’t brands. They’re domaines.”

“Hold on. Angelus paid lots of money to feature in James Bond movies, and Mouton Rothschild sends legal letters to anyone who puts anything sheep-like on their labels. That sounds very brand-like behaviour to me.”

“Yes, they may act like brands, but we don’t like to look at them that way. Otherwise, we’d have to address the subject of ‘wine marketing’ and we’d really prefer to leave that to the New World.”

"Why don't we like wine marketing."

"Look at that lovely view of the hills."




So, what does it matter if an industry chooses to have a language of its own, and a particular way of viewing the world? Surely it can be seen as quaintly appealing.

Maybe so, but at a time of necessary introspection by an industry that globally faces a growing range of challenges, one might also say that it smacks of exceptionalism - of the notion that wine is not subject to the same rules as other drinks. This way of looking at things, which for so long protected wine from having to reveal how much sugar it contained, for example, and proposes 'education' as a solution to the daunting nature of its labels, is not always helpful.

Perhaps the very top estates in Bordeaux and Burgundy can successfully pretend to be 'above' the mundanity of marketing and brand-building (while cannily practising both) but they set a poor example to their less starry neighbours who are neither sufficiently recognised as fine wine, nor as brands to get away with this kind of behaviour.

Even if their ambitions are less lofty than these, their - and other French producers' - role models should be highly commercial producers like Gérard Bertrand and Sacha Lichine (of Whispering Angel fame) - men who have created enough magic around their brands to have earned the right to call their factories whatever they like.


The Court of Master Sommeliers has dropped the terms ‘New World’ and ‘Old World’. Robert Joseph considers the issue.

Reading time: 4m



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