For the last two weeks, Bordeaux buzzed with the “En Primeurs” campaign for the 2010 vintage. Last week was the peak of the campaign with tastings all over the Bordeaux area. Every appellation and classification opened their doors to journalists, bloggers, importers, distributors and all kinds of professionals. This time of the year is a blessing because it is possible to meet all those people one knows through Internet, via their blogs or virtual events.
Château d’Yquem, true to its cult status, organized the tasting of its 2010 vintage in the most beautiful room of the Bordeaux Opera. The staging was gorgeous with beautiful white flowers in huge vases and the golden sculptures of the walls. It gave a very zen feeling to the tasting very much in symbiosis with the vintage. As most know, I am not a wine critic and will not comment on the 2010 vintage, except to say it was as zen as the staging. I enjoyed the smoothness and the elegance of the wine. As Sandrine Garbay, the brilliant cellar master of Yquem, told me, it is already very drinkable and amateurs will be able to enjoy it earlier than the 2009.
After the pleasure of tasting the 2010 and the 1988 vintages, meeting a few friends, exchanging a few words with Pierre Lurton, Sandrine Garbay and Valérie Lailheugue, Communication Director of the Château, I started thinking about cult wines and branding. When I wrote Wine Brands – three years ago – I concluded that cult wines like Château Haut-Brion or Château d’Yquem, were not wine brands: they were luxury brands, but not to be treated like a Dior perfume. Luxury wine brands are a very specific type of brands: very rare (a few thousands bottles every year) and not expandable, often expensive, exclusively distributed, luxury wine brands can thrive only in the rarefied atmosphere of exclusive events and zen elegance. But because they are an agricultural product as well, they cannot be treated like Calvin Klein jeans. How did they achieve this legendary status? Answer: organic marketing. According to Michael Havens, who founded the Havens Wines Cellars in California, “Synthetic marketing emphasizes the brand’s concept, label and price, followed by the wine; organic marketing focuses on the wine and the region first, followed by concept, label, etc.”, said Havens to journalist Marvin Collins of Winesandvines.com (Sept. 18, 2007). As Michael Havens said even more wittily, it is “a story of a guy in a place with a grape”. Of course, luxury wine brands are more than just great wines grown in an exceptional place and elegantly bottled. Nowadays it is also a concept. The concept certainly evolved over the years more “organically” than voluntarily. Each luxury wine brand had to differentiate itself from the others but instead of emphasizing the packaging, they worked on the emotional link they created with their customers. Drinking a glass of Haut-Brion or Yquem is like drinking a little part of European history. Emotion through a beautiful wine, elegant bottle and refined staging is what created the brand over the centuries.