A few years ago I read a very intriguing book by Simon Anholt, Brand America: The Mother of All Brands. Before reading this book I had never thought of a country as a brand. When you think about it, it makes sense to brand a country or a place. After all, Napa, Bordeaux, Priorato, Tuscany are branded places: they acquired their image – positive or negative – over centuries or decades of work. “Places acquire their images very slowly, as a result of the things their governments, businesses and people do, the things they make, and they way they do and make those things,” writes Simon Anholt on his web site. “If a country wants to change that image, it must change what it does and what it makes, and change the way it does and makes things. There’s no magical shortcut through marketing or advertising, logos or slogans.”
This last statement is very painful for the marketer but holds a lot of truth. For many years, Europe just ignored American wines. American wines? It’s a joke, would say any European 30 years ago. But the famous (or infamous) Judgement of Paris put California on the wine map in 1976. Even if nowadays American wines are not yet regarded as real competitors in quality by most of the average European consumers, the most learned wine drinkers recognize the high quality of Californian wines but admit they don’t fit their palate. California, as a wine growing place, acquires its image very slowly, as stated earlier by Anholt. After almost half a century of work, in spite of partnerships between European prestigious estates and American wineries (Opus One with R. Mondavi and E. de Rothschild), in spite of the work done by French consultants or winemakers expatriated in the US or the building of French wineries in California (Domaine Chandon, for example), California is still not quite recognized as a wine country by most Europeans.
Branding a nation and branding a place are very slow processes. Does it mean that branding a wine from such a place is difficult also? I would say “yes”. I’m sure most Europeans can’t name an American wine. I might be wrong: since Mondovino, more people know the name of Mondavi but is it a positive branding? Unfortunately, no. People might also know the name of Gallo since their mass-market brand “Turning Leaf” was available in a lot of supermarkets. Does it give a positive image of the wine world in California? Unfortunately it does not and it will take a lot of work and time to brand “California” as a country of great wines… to my chagrin.