By any other name … please!

Waikikamukau Mtsvane anyone?

New Zealand's wine brand names often read like a road map.

Andrew Jefford’s blog in this week’s Decanter describes little-known grape varieties that, from a marketing perspective, are “hamstrung by nomenclature.” His list includes Hungary’s Cserszegi Fűszeres, Királyeányka or Zalagyöngye, Romania’s Fetească Regală or Zghihară de Huşi, Portugal’s Donzelinho or Fernão Pires, Greece’s Xynomavro or Agiorgitiko, Catalonia’s Xarello, Italy’s Sciascinoso and Georgia’s Mtsvane Kakhuri. (I’ll pause here, to give you some time to digest.)

As Jefford notes, “The chance of ‘ordinary’ drinkers outside the relevant language group cheerfully requesting a wine by use of that variety name is zero.”

His observations brought to mind a similar perspective offered in a brief article by Lee Suckling in this month’s New Zealand Winegrower magazine, “A Common Whine.”

Suckling interviewed Kathie Bartley, an experienced and respected wine marketer, who commented that too many Kiwi wineries “don’t spend the time or money to come up with a good brand name.”

“It’s easy to spot the brands with difficult brand names to pronounce, say and remember,” Bartley added.

Key offenders are those wineries that have opted for Maori place names that will not only be unpronounceable, but completely unintelligible to anyone who has not spent a fair bit of time travelling in the “Land of the Long White Cloud.”

Bartley didn’t pull her punches. “Maori names like Ngatarawa, Nga Waka, Te Kairanga all fall into this category,” she noted. “As a result Ngatarawa use Glazebrook internationally, Nga Waka developed the Three Paddles brand, and Te Kairanga is promoted as TK.”

Kiwi road signs can be as difficult to navigate as the brand names.

I have often marvelled at the use of such names for wine brands. Kiwis grow up in a landscape saturated with Maori monikers and seldom pause to consider how difficult the words are for those of us with an offshore heritage. As a Canadian transplant, I arrived with complacent familiarity with strange-sounding names like Nanaimo, Chemainus, and Cowichan (all place names on my native Vancouver Island), but found myself flummoxed by Waikaremoana, Waipukurau, Eketahuna and Whakapapa. There are so many vowels that a number of them are silent – a good case could be made to ship surplus vowels off to Bosnia, where they’re in perennially short supply. Even names I thought I understood, such as “Mac O’Rory,” turned out to be spelled “Makorori” – something that registered only after I kept missing the turnoff to a local beach.

Ironically, Kiwis themselves recognise the tongue-twisting exoticism of such names. They’ve even invented a fake Maori name – Waikikamukau (pronounced as “Why kick a moo-cow”) – to signify particularly remote rural towns.

There is, possibly, a bright side to all this. Antonia Mantonakis, an associate professor of marketing at Brock University in Ontario, found that wine names that are difficult to pronounce may actually prompt knowledgeable wine consumers into making a purchase.

Mantonakis conducted an experiment in which 134 participants, randomly assigned to three groups, were invited to participate in a wine-tasting. Those who sampled wines from wineries with “dis-fluent” names rated the wines more highly and were prepared to pay a higher price – as much as $2 more per bottle.

Meanwhile, Jefford humorously proposes a kind of periodic table for grape varieties, abbreviating variety names to a 1-, 2- or 3-letter code similar to the abbreviations used for chemical elements (or airports). But I predict trouble ahead: New Zealand now has access to many alternative varieties with difficult or unpronounceable names. Combine those with unpronounceable brand names and you’ve got a marketing nightmare – “hamstrung by nomenclature” indeed.

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