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08.19.2006

THIS is Wine Globalization

In case anyone was still on the fence about this whole globalization phenomena, the latest news from Germany should be enough to convert even those few who might still be clinging to the notion that it's not all just one big global economy. The famed Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region of Germany, home to some of the country's best wines, is about to have its name changed to make its wines more "accessible" to consumers.

In case it's not perfectly clear, those consumers AREN'T the Germans.

No, the Germans don't seem to have issues pronouncing the names of places like Gimmeldinger Mandelgarten that often appear on German wine labels along with several other multi-syllabic terms. It's us Americans (and many other global consumers) that get tongue tied, intimidated, and confused by wines that seem to have names that include more than ten words.

So who cares about the folks who can't even pronounce Grüner Veltliner properly?

Apparently the winegrowers of the Mosel do, which is why they're lobbying the German government fairly hard to change the name of the region (or at least the regulations for what must be put on wine labels) to simply, Mosel.

I couldn't have imagined a more perfect example of the inextricable interconnectedness of global commerce these days, especially in the wine industry. And how beautifully it walks the razor's edge of both good and bad aspects of the phenomenon.

Critics of globalization might look at this latest development as a depressing sign of the dumbing-down and homogenization of culture: can you believe that some country is forced to change a centuries old name for a wine region just to sell wine to the world? Those more comfortable with the phenomenon might point out how it's actually the winegrowers themselves that are responding to what they see as an opportunity to sell more of their wine to a broader population than ever before.

It's very interesting to me that the German government seems much more amenable to this move than the French would be. Apparently it took some lobbying, for some time, on the part of the growers to get this change through, but it's fairly major compared to the abortive efforts that have been attempted many times in France to simply get varietal names onto bottles. That's not changing the name of Saint Emilion, mind you, that's just adding the little words "Cabernet Sauvignon" somewhere on the front of the label. Perhaps the French can learn some lessons from their Eastern neighbor to assist with their current troubles.

I'd like to go on the record as applauding this move by the Germans. I think there is little "cultural value" to be lost in such a move as this (the road maps will still read what they have always read). How much there is to be gained in intelligibility for the global consumer remains to be seen. Even with the shortened name "Mosel Leiwener Klostergarten Riesling Kabinett" is still a bit of a mouthful. But a tasty one to be sure.

Read the full story.

Comments (14)

robert dingley wrote:
08.20.06 at 4:23 AM

I think it's a big mistake. The MSR region is one of the world's oldest and most prestigious. As any MBA student will tell you, you don't mess with premium brands lightly: hard-won reputation can be ruined overnight, and take decades to rebuild. Maybe its a good idea for other German wine regions (as it is a good idea, say, for the French wine regions between Southern Rhone and the Spanish border), but a famous region like MSR should not be taking its marketing lessons from new world wine countries like Australia which have specialised, both at home and abroad (and I say this as an Australian) in well-made industrial stuff. Rather, MSR should be taking its lessons in how to leverage history and privilege from elite French regions like Burgundy, Champagne etc. As the world acquires more wine drinkers over time (yes, thanks to countries like Australia and their marketing and wine making techniques), many will want to move up in quality and snob value. That's when sitting on a premier regional 'mystique' (terroir!?)such as MSR winemakers do will come into its own. So, it's a very short-sighted decision, and reflective of something I've noticed about Germany on many visits since the Berlin Wall fell - its gradual loss of cultural confidence and slide into cultural mediocrity.

BTW - When I first read your entry, I wondered if the elite wine makers in the MSR region were also part of this lobbying push, since that wouldn't have made sense to me given their current and long-term interests, but it would have been a persuasive extra data-point supporting my thesis about Germany's gradual loss of cultural nerve. Then, at the end of the article you link to, I read this:

"Christoph Tyrell of the Ruwer's Weingut Karthaeuserhof considers the name change unnecessary, and believes the contention that consumers are confused by the M-S-R label is a myth created by the large 'large Mosel-based producers'."

Es braucht nichts mehr zu sagen . . . .

Tony wrote:
08.20.06 at 5:10 AM

Unless the new regulations require all producers to use the "Mosel" appellation those who include the original appellation name "Mosel-Saar-Ruwer" on their labels wil have effectively downgraded the competition.

David wrote:
08.20.06 at 5:56 AM

I agree with both commenters. I also do not see the problem with the French putting just the variety on the bottle unless they want to force everyone to do it (another example of reducing quality producers to the mediocracy of the mass producers).

I believe German law already allows the producers to put any name they want on the bottle, simple it will lose its definition as the german DOC or DOCG and becomes a "tablewine", but this is not their purpose. Look at the Italian Designer (meritage) wines. They are not even required to place a geographical denomination.

Jack wrote:
08.20.06 at 8:50 AM

This is the first of a trend. Next we have...
1. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi becoming just Jesi
2. Côtes du Rhône Villages Beaumes-de-Venise becoming just Venise
3. Getariako Txakolina becoming just Buyourwine

(Okay, so this is not a helpful post.)

Alder wrote:
08.20.06 at 9:36 AM

Robert,

Excellent thoughts. However to argue the other side -- there's also something to be said for listening to how your customers talk. Every wine lover I know just calls it 'The Mosel.' Remember the company called Federal Express? Some smart marketing people at one point realized that everyone called it FedEx, so they changed the name of the company. No damage done to the brand -- on the contrary -- it's as strong as ever. Let's just be glad no one is contemplating a Kinko's-like merger between The Mosel and the Nahe.

Jack K wrote:
08.21.06 at 5:58 AM

If I am not mistaken, a vote to change this name was taken a few years ago and the producers voted not to change, especially the Saar and Ruwer growers. The article does not say if they voted again or exactly who decided. I start my lecture on the M-S-R using the entire name but then switch to the Mosel so I don't see that it will cause them any harm. I wish they would do something about the Grosslage/Einslage problem more.

Alder wrote:
08.21.06 at 8:47 AM

Jack,

I'm not familiar with the German wines to know what you're talking about when you mention the Grosslage/Einslage problem. Can you enlighten me?

Joel wrote:
08.21.06 at 10:13 AM

For me, the name of the regions in Germany, the grape and even the vineyards are surprisingly easy to decipher with a little study of German labels. It is the differences between ripeness levels that make German wine difficult for me.

I generally feel like I know about how sweet a non-dessert Riesling like a kabinett, spatlese, auslese, auslese *, auslese ** or gold cap will be but just as often as not, I end up surprised, often finding the wine too sweet for the my tastes or the meal I am drinking it with. For me, the Germans would be better served providing more easier to use information for determining a Riesling's sweetness, not changing the name of M-S-R. This is one of the reasons I tend to favor Austrian and Australian Rieslings. The sweetness level (or lack thereof) is easier to determine.

Jack K wrote:
08.21.06 at 10:15 AM

The problem is the Piesporter Michelsberg/Goldtrepschen example.
Goldtrepschen is the Einslage and better single vineyard while Michelsberg is the groupvineyard or large area or Grosslage name and there is no way to tell the difference on the label. And that is comfusing to people and you have to learn them.

Mason wrote:
08.21.06 at 11:54 AM

I'm with Alder on this one: The change is for the better, especially for smaller wineries who subsist on selling everyday kabinetts, in contrast to the ultrapremium BA's & TBA's you see on the auction market. While it's quite an experience to savor a JJ Prum or Dr. Loosen desert wine once a yr, I'd rather pull the cork on a not-so-rare QbA every week.

Mason wrote:
08.21.06 at 11:55 AM

I'm with Alder on this one: The change is for the better, especially for smaller wineries who subsist on selling everyday kabinetts, in contrast to the ultrapremium BA's & TBA's you see on the auction market. While it's quite an experience to savor a JJ Prum or Dr. Loosen desert wine once a yr, I'd rather pull the cork on a not-so-rare QbA every week.

08.21.06 at 12:54 PM

anyone want to help out with this one?

Conegliano-Valdobbiadene

Kevin wrote:
08.22.06 at 3:42 PM

While I think the option to only list Mosel as the region is a good one, I don't see it making much of a difference in sales.

If the Germans really want to make inroads to the American market, they should come up with a German branding campaign. Go after the White Zin drinking market (who surely can't say German Riesling is too sweet, a comment all my friends make to me when I suggest we have one) and draw them away. Get out there and do head to head comparison tastings at wine festivals. Demonstrate the great pairing that an off dry German Riesling can make with spicy Asian cuisine (which we love here in the US). Or how it makes a great summer sipper.

Snazz it up...make it lively and less "German"...and hire an Aussie to head up the marketing campaign...they do it better than anyone.

Second thing, create better packaging for the US market. They can still keep the traditional information on the back label, but simplify the front one. Look at Bloom or Saint M for examples.

11.19.14 at 8:51 AM

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