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Independent Thinking from Great Artisan












What The Market Says
It's Mataro - Not Mourvèdre
Friday, 15th March, 2013  - David Farmer

Decades ago I owned a large bottle shop in the Sydney suburb of Waterloo. It's expensive real estate now but back then the hoods propped up bars in the local pubs, we often drank at The George opposite the shop, while down the side lane, Beaumont Street, the hookers relaxed between jobs.

The shop sold an extraordinary amount of Reschs DA 'Dinner Ale', in long necks, and I assumed the reason was because of the taste. Still being curious I asked the Reschs beer 'rep' the reason and he replied it was because the low prices drew customers from a wide area where many immigrants had settled and a great number spoke poor English but were comfortable asking for 'DA', thus avoiding embarrassment.

I observed the customers from then on and it rang true, being no different to me ordering a drink in France, though my favoured method was to point at the bottle.

In the late 1970s early 1980s I had begun a campaign to convince customers that New Zealand wine was not a joke and was very good and specifically I promoted the new variety sauvignon blanc. It took another 20 years but it happened.

Marketing and selling is a complex business but you need to get a few things right from the start; such as a simple name that is easy to say and a good product, though if the product is novel and requires education be prepared to keep at it for a long time.

During the 1990s I watched with interest the arrival of the new white variety viognier into the market. Wine writers need new things to write about and this in turn helps draw consumer interest and the adventurous buyers are always at hand to give things a go. I was very comfortable with this variety from my days as a French wine importer.

By the late 1990s the wines made by Yalumba were very good and even the cheapest in the range often won medals. As a marketer this aspect, which is termed third party endorsement, is very valuable in drawing consumer awareness. As the quality improved so did the quantity and the prices dropped. Seeing an opportunity for sales and building a positive 'wine merchant image', the company for which I wrote catalogues and advertisements, began promoting the cheaper viogniers.

The early wines, often with gold medals, sold well but it is not always possible to win medals. Still we kept at it but for the effort involved there was not an increase but a noticeable slowing of sales. I became concerned and after chatting to sales staff realised they could not pronounce the name and neither could customers. Staff like action as do customers, and new things sell, but I could see this promotion was becoming all too hard.

It was not my greatest day as a copywriter but I changed the headlines to read; 'The Amazing New Variety with the Name You Cannot Say' or 'The Wine you will Love with the Odd Name'; desperate stuff, but I was trying to overcome any customer embarrassment.

Wine is so much more confusing than beer. The bottles may look the same but the tastes vary widely and saying, 'I'll have what they are having', or using my method of pointing, is not going to work. You do need some knowledge and you do need to ask.

This month we are promoting the old Australian variety Mataro, and the term old is used as the earliest reference I found is 1832. It may well have got to our shores before then. Like most grape varieties it has many names and is referred to as monastrell (Spain) and mourvèdre (France) plus changes again in other countries. The catchiest name is the French term estrangle-chein or loosely 'Dog Strangler' a term now used by Teusner Wines. I am uncertain as to which country takes honours for the origin of the variety but believe it to be Spain.

Unfortunately for a variety with little, local recognition it is referred to as Mataro and mourvèdre which is confusing and thus poor marketing. For a quick reference to which winery calls it what I turned to the Dan Murphy site which lists 43 wines which are either 100% Mataro or include it in a blend. The results are Mataro 20, mourvèdre 22 and one monastrell.

In 'Grape Varieties of South Australia', Boehm and Tulloch, (SA Department of Agriculture) 1967, the terms mourvèdre and monastrell are not noted though a reference is confusingly made to morrastel as being Mataro though morrastel, at least overseas is synonymous with graciano.

Thus there is no historical precedent for the naming of this variety as anything but Mataro. Alas nothing is simple as the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has the official name as mourvèdre which perhaps has caused confusion for those exporting. While listening to their importers it is not a law that the variety be called mourvèdre. If instead wineries prefer the term, perhaps because they think it seems more 'distinguished' or posh, then heaven help us.

This of course is not what concerns me, as to persist with the term mourvèdre risks failure as no one is confident in pronouncing it. At Glug we will stick to Mataro as it is a tough, honest sounding and avoids a name which is far too French for our taste. The Barossa Valley Wine Show and Penfolds should do likewise. To get the Australian red wine drinker interested in this wonderful variety will require serious effort and using dual names is a disaster.

In what is now a long career I have noted that the Australian consumer is reluctant to try new wines. They can be coaxed but if they see confusion they will shy away and stay with shiraz. The range of reds currently consumed is far too narrow and must be broadened for drinking interest and to diversify our plantings. Far better to work with a variety with a very long history which is perfectly adapted to many of our regions that trying to promote a smattering of recent arrivals.

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