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08.01.2006

Those Arrogant Frogs

frogger.jpgI'm not sure to whether to file the latest news from France under Tragically Hip or It's About Damn Time. As large chunks of the French wine industry are crumbling away, there are signs that some things are changing.

Forever locked into labeling wines first and foremost with place names for reasons of national pride, tradition, legal requirements, and a sense of propriety, the French now seem to be relaxing their death grip on the ways of old. New appellation groupings are being created with understandable names like The South of France to make some wines more accessible to those consumers who might not know how to navigate "Savennieres-Roche Aux Moines."

The latest news is even better, however, as some French winemakers (albeit at the low end of the spectrum) are actually resorting to things that five years ago no Frenchman in his right mind would have agreed to: putting cute animals on the wine label.

Yes, that's right. The French have gotten into the critter wine label business.

Not only that, but they've apparently even started coming up with interesting names for their wines. Two of the latest: Elephant on a Tightrope, and Arrogant Frog. Heck, that last one even seems like it has a sense of humor. But that may just be a hasty judgment on my part. Certainly that name in particular is "shocking" winery owners all over France.

All kidding aside, I think this is a great step, and one, if adopted by more producers, can begin to help the low end of the wine market in France which is really in dire straits.

Read the full story.

Comments (24)

Ed Charles wrote:
08.02.06 at 12:23 AM

As far as I can remember from my experience of posh French restaurants the French have always loved cute pictures - the Roux brother crying child has always been lamentable. Funnily enough "The Arrogant Frog" has recently arrived down under and isn't bad. It is very cheap and punched above its weight and it's not just me saying that. the Old fashioned media have been too.

The Corkdork wrote:
08.02.06 at 8:20 AM

Savennieres-Roche Aux Moines indeed! That's my WBW wine tonight--a '94!!

Corkdork

Golly wrote:
08.02.06 at 8:43 AM

Zut Alors! What is the world coming to? They'll be actually selling the wine soon, to people who shop in supermarkets. If people get to try some new styles because they're cute that has to be a big step forward for France.

David wrote:
08.02.06 at 9:15 AM

So should California wine-makers be forced to label their bottles "Western USA" instead of Paso Robles (for example)?

I find it sad that the French wine-makers feel the need to succumb to our ignorance. I'm assuming that the US market by it's mere size is a big contributing reason for this.

God forbid Americans actually have to learn something, right?

Whit Stevens wrote:
08.02.06 at 10:19 AM

David,

I don’t think French producers are being “forced” to do anything. Rather, they have decided on their own that a different labeling approach will make their products more marketable to international buyers. Is this not how business is supposed to work (producers catering to consumer preference)?

And as far as U.S. wine labels go, in my experience they tend to provide quite a bit of information. Rarely do I pick up a bottle of U.S. wine that doesn’t specifically mention the State in addition to the appellation (and of course the varietal). In contrast, many French labels contain only the appellation and do not mention the region (nor the varietal).

Personally, I would love to see more French labels mentioning region and varietal. I find them the most difficult to shop for without assistance. There’s just too many French appellations putting out good wine for a guy like me (with fairly limited brainpower) to keep straight.

Tricia wrote:
08.02.06 at 11:07 AM

I think I gotta go with David here.

I mean, you can't really feel SORRY for the French wine industry. For the first time (ever?), it's getting outsold buy New Worlders who are simply better marketers.

But the reason (one of the reasons) they French are falling behind - because of labels that are traditional and regional and largely lacking in critters - speaks badly of Americans. And I do mean Americans; we're the growth market. It confirms every stereotype of the ugly American. Won't learn another language, no sense of geography, no care for other cultures, rabid consumers. Yuck.

But for the sake of my beloved small French producers (don't get me wrong, I love my small U.S. producers, too), I have to say homogenizing their labels is the right plan if they want to compete.

St.Vini wrote:
08.02.06 at 12:49 PM

"(France is) getting outsold buy New Worlders who are simply better marketers. "

Simply better marketers? REALLY? Its that simple?

That's patently absurd. Americans may be many things but we tend to be savvy consumers. If it tastes bad, we're not going to buy it again. Simply put, New World wines taste better to Americans and that's why we CONTINUE to buy them.

Now you can quibble about style, artistic integrity, terroir, etc. but the results speak for themselves. Wine that tastes like fruit, not boxes of cigars and pencil lead, appeals to US consumers. Barnyard aromas and wines that are "hard to like"(Mondovino reference) don't cut it.

V

Dustin wrote:
08.02.06 at 2:44 PM

An intriguineg development, to say the least, but is it really that much of a surprise? Though I have never been a drinker of French wine (Oh, the Humanity... due to affordability and availability for the most part), I have always held a deep regard and even an internal symathetic angst for the french populace. Blame it on 12 years of French and having read Les Mis 4 times(once in French). In my mind they represent the diversity of the world ("as goes Paris, so does the world," I once read somewhere) the complexity of life from birth to death, and the passion and vitality of thier own sense of place in the Universe... but enough of that dribble, suffice it to say... gasp... yes, I am a Francophile; to the quick, I am glad and not surprised over the adaptation the French wine market is making. Look how quickly they turned to The HyperMarches, despite the traditionalism most hold... The French in the end are realists, and I personally look forward to finding a good cheap bottle of French wine in my neighhborhood "Hypermarche," especially if "Le Grenuille Arrogant" reflects the typical vitality of Le Monde Francais.
Dustin-

08.02.06 at 3:03 PM

I guess the joint venture between the French and the Italians for the "DaVinci Code" wine is on the back burner after the World cup incident.

Alder wrote:
08.02.06 at 6:07 PM

St. Vini,

Your point is well taken, but you have to admit marketing is PART of the equation, right? I mean, the wine has to get into the market or the store in the first place, right? Which means that there is some distributor somewhere or some importer making a decision to buy a bottle (or a whole pallet of them) in the first place. While certainly some of this has to do with taste, a lot of it has to do with how well the importer thinks the wine will sell, and a GOOD PART of that has to do with the wine's packaging and branding, no ?

Brian Miller wrote:
08.02.06 at 8:34 PM

Heck, as I drink more wine, I am appreciating more and more that cigar and pencil lead stuff. If I want sweet grape juice, I'll buy Welch's. I hope the French (and some of the Italians) don't make their wines TOO fruity.

Trish wrote:
08.02.06 at 9:25 PM

"Simply put, New World wines taste better to Americans and that's why we CONTINUE to buy them."

Yikes. Let's qualify that a bit. Taste better to Americans with soda pop palates. Not me.

My, someone was feeling nasty.

Alder wrote:
08.02.06 at 9:29 PM

Tricia,

St. Vini is, by design, always a little aggressive on first taste and a little bitter in the back palate. He means well, and like most will no doubt mellow with age.

Trish wrote:
08.02.06 at 9:32 PM

Actually, I should temper that, too. Not nasty - passionate, which I fully understand. :)

I should also probably reiterate that I adore many New World wines; just as there are many I don't. Tomato, tomahto.

Tony wrote:
08.03.06 at 3:50 AM

Ugly americans with money and a thirst for fruit flavored alcohol are entitled to what they want, dammit! New world wines are merely better at selling to them.

Lisa wrote:
08.03.06 at 3:51 PM

I believe that some of the most beautiful wines in the world are made in France. Unfortunately, like many fine parts of the French culture, the making and selling of the wines gets all tied up in the rules, regulations and bureacracy. I have recently been researching and reading some of the appellation decrees. Many of these decrees date back to the 1930's and 40's, and some of them haven't even been changed since then. They are incredibly painful to read - this varietal may be used in this community within the appellation but only up to this percentage. The font for the name of the community may be printed next to the appellation name on the front label but only to a maximum of 50% of the size, and it goes on and on. It's incredible and yet very very French.

It's not as if the French understand these rules and regulations either. French consumers are just as confused as those in the New World. There are over 100 sub-appellations within the Burgundy appellation alone. Only the very motivated can hope to keep track of this kind of minutiae.

Joel wrote:
08.04.06 at 10:43 PM

I have to disagree with Tricia on this point. It is not an ugly American thing that necessitates putting more and better information on wine labels. It is simply a matter of adapting to a truly global wine market.

For the average and even the highly educated wine drinker, it really comes down to "do you want to learn about a couple of dozen grape varieties or do you want to learn about thousands of appellations, sub-appelations, vineyards and the like?" A study of a few dozen varientals would allow one to look at a varietal labeled wine and have a pretty darn good understanding of what they are likely to find in the bottle. For me, call it laziness or call it what you will, I really like knowing the grape variety because I can at least get a read on what that unknown wine might taste like before twisting off the cap (or pulling the synthetic or real cork).

Take Loire whites for example. Unless you really get in and study this region, do you know if it is chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay or romorantin just looking at the label? Of course this knowledge makes a huge difference to what you are considering. What about Bordeaux? Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot...put it on the label and at least we can get an idea about the wine with only a relatively decent memory and a reasonable amount of study. Do I really want to burden my already stretched memory with the likely grape mix of that 4th growth...do I really want to remember what it might be? Yea, I am proud when I can show off and tell someone that Bandol is actually made from Mourvedre. But who really cares about my arrogant pride?

I, for one, like to know what I am considering without having to search every wine book or the internet to find out. If you want to have appellations, those are certainly valuable. Sure I value Masters of Wine and academic studies. I even enjoy my own studies. But simplification isn't just marketing, it's plain good sense. Kudo's to the French for getting it, for once.

The old world wine appellations were developed at a time when Burgundy hardly made it to England, let alone Australia. In ancient days, your world was smaller and an educated person could know the difference between a Corton Charlemagne and a Musigny. That might be the only choice they had when they took their casks down to the winery for their purchase. There was little more for most wine drinkers to worry about besides a few local appellations. Today wines from every country in the world are within the reach of a huge percentage of the world's population. Who the hell outside of the priveledged few who work in the wine industry can keep it all straight?

The industrial age changed the availability of all goods and services and the wine world needs to catch up. The California vitners of the mid 20th century did us all a favor by putting the grape on the label. Sure, a California Cabernet is different from an Australian one. But in complete ignorance about Mudgee and Napa, I still have a simple point of reference for Cabernet that I can rely on when choosing to give the Aussie wine a shot. The Italians could learn something from this as well. The critters, those I can do without.

Cindy Bearce wrote:
08.05.06 at 12:51 AM

As co-creator of one of the newest French wine brands, Elephant on a Tightrope, I have to say that the French wine industry is changing and realize the need to adapt their labeling, not just to the American market but to the international market. Eveyone seems to ignore that even France has a new generation of wine consumer, less wine educated than previous generations, that is interested in trying new wines, and looking for wine labels with a clear message.

But unlike the Americans, the French consumer, who still has a wide selection of wines at their fingertips, will never compromise taste for cute labels or marketing gimicks. The wine bearing the cute label also has to be good. The wines in our brand are not made from grapes purchased throughout France and thrown together to create a « new world » tasting wine.

Our brand consists of a range of wines selected from family-run wineries, made with grapes from a single vineyard. These wines have not been manipulated to appeal to any particular palate. They range from fruity and easy to drink, to more serious wines that be kept for a number of years -- a selection of French wines that will appeal to different consumers

As with any product on the market today, the reality is that packaging contributes a great deal to selling a product. Our packaging is meant to compete with new world wines, but our wines remain truely French.

Wayne Moore wrote:
08.06.06 at 6:52 PM

I agree with Joel.

I have had lots of requests from our American customers for a great Aussie red that will be the equal of a good Bordeaux.

Never hear back when I tell them that Bordeaux is a region, not a grape and would they like a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot as these are the most popular grape varities in the Bordeaux region.

Guys, now the French are cottoning on, please don't tell the Italians too that their labelling should allow for savvy consumers who know a Merlot from a Pinot Noir.

09.10.06 at 10:11 AM

In the town of Tulbagh in South African wine country there is a superb restuarant called Paddagang. In coloquial Afrikaans (one of South Africa's 11 official languages) Paddagang means "Frog Passage" or "Right of Way for Frogs". There is even a road sign asking carsto give way to frogs.

All thier wine labels, which at one stage won a National Advertising Award have a cartoon frog cariacture on the label eg Paddarotti, depicts a frog in a dress suit singing opera songs.

Paddajolyt is a vin ordinaire that means "Frog Fun" whilst Padadundee (chardonnay) shows a frog dressed like "Crocodile Dundee".

There is a Paddasang "Frog Song" and a Paddapoot ewhich is a sweet Hanepoort dessert wine.

Another excellent dessert wine is Brulpadda or "Bull Frog". This is an excellent Cape port.

Alder wrote:
09.10.06 at 2:53 PM

I guess the French aren't the only ones who like frogs.

Eugenio wrote:
09.21.06 at 9:25 PM

This was an interesting post. Not because of the frog, but for what it embodies - globalization (and what it does to wine)

I for one appreciate a world full of diversity - in wine parlance: terroir. The day a Bordeaux tastes the same as a Rhone that tastes the same as a Maipo that tastes the same as a Napa, is when you should look in the mirror and see if you are wearing the same grey uniform as the rest of the 5 Billion people around you.

There is no question in my mind that people like Parker, Rolland and McCloskey (of Enologix) are key contributors to this "uniform" taste. But it would be way too simplistic to suggest that they are part of a wine axis of evil. For the record, Parker and Rolland have made huge contributions to the industry and helped make sense of an otherwise atomized and very closed wine world. But like all things - too much of a good thing...

I have always associated french wine as old world and steeped in tradition - and hence never had a problem with their old stodgy labels of grand chateaux and lion gates. Purely from a marketing standpoint, this is their niche and nobody in the rest of the world can come close. If I wanted a traditional claret i would go with the sure thing: france (rhone to be exact) with the old pompous casttle smaking of old world arrogance. if on the other hand i wanted blackberry syrup i'd go with Barossa Valley with labels depicting one eyed pirates, or a frog mocking you.

Each terroir has a particularity that ought to be reflected in the wine. Labels should play to the strenght of the image that the terroir evokes. Going against it is a questionable marketing strategy. labels featuring caricatures play well to places that engender that kind of anti-establishment image, such as Australia and California - for a French wine to copy that type of image thinking it will somehow associate itself with a newworld aura, is plain naive ... it just proves why low-end french wine is in the dolldrums - they dont get it. There is nothing wrong with the image that French wine has, they just need to play that image to their advantage. They ARE the establishment, they shouldn't run away from it, or try to be something they are not - or for that matter try to make a juice that is similar to that of the US or Australia (make a better wine yes, but keeping the 'frenchness" intact).

John wrote:
03.18.07 at 12:33 AM

People's stance towards wine tasting and drinking is changing rapidly with the change of time. And french wine producers don't seems to have cared about it lately. This could be one reason but not the only reason.

Indiana Gviden wrote:
07.09.08 at 10:46 PM

I just had a glass of "Arrogant Frog" Lily Pad Noir. As pinot noir's go this one falls horribly short. Absolute crap. I think Arrogant Frog is sweet irony. Lily Pad Noir has a frog on the label because that's what your are if you buy this and drink it. ARROGANT FROG reminds me of dirty feet.

Thank you and good night.

Indiana Gividen

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