Defining the word brand is surprisingly tricky. As part of the Master of Wine course, students have to develop a concise and pertinent definition of their own. There are many different interpretations, but here's mine.
This definition is deliberately broad. It means anything can be called a brand if it has cachet in the eye of the beholder. In this way, it is similar to advertising guru and winemaker John Hegarty's quote: "A brand is the most valuable piece of real estate in the world: a corner of someone’s mind."
For wine, this means that brands are not only high volume products with global distribution such as Yellowtail or Moët et Chandon; it can include tiny production fine wines such as DRC as well as whole appellations such as champagne.
Some wines achieve brandhood unintentionally, and DRC is a good example of this. Those three initials and the simple but iconic label design conjure instant and powerful recognition for any wine lover, regardless of whether they actually like it - or more probably, whether they have ever actually tasted it. This came about not through the deliberate action of the brand owner, but by the market forces which have made these wines some of the most expensive and sought-after on the planet.
Other wines have branding thrust upon them as part of a predetermined marketing strategy. This can involve sponsorship, deluxe packaging, glitzy product launches, advertising and PR. The brands owned by LVMH are the ne plus ultra of this type - for example, Moët et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Dom Pérignon.
What makes a good wine brand?
Any brand that successfully engenders some level of positive emotional resonance among its customers might therefore be said to be good (according to my definition, anyway), but the very best brands manage to appeal widely without undermining their value or diluting their story.
Again, it's hard to think of many better examples than the LVMH-owned champagnes mentioned above, which are widely admired within the industry and achieve quality recognition across a broad consumer demographic.
For appellations, Chablis and Châteauneuf-du-Pape retain enviable brand power for reasons that are not entirely apparent. It's not that they spend more on promotion, but is more likely due to a combination of historical prestige, widespread distribution and a certain amount of stylistic distinction.
However, wine brands remain much smaller entities than their equivalents in the beer, soft drinks and spirits industries. There's no Budweiser, Coca-Cola or Smirnoff of wine - a fact usually attributed to the fragmented and seasonal realities of wine production.
This is often thought of as a good thing, but I'm not so sure. Brands give people reassurance, confidence and connection to a product, and the wine industry shouldn't view it as a dirty word.