Name Games

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On a recent road trip around regional New South Wales, and an overnight stay in the country town of Orange, I enjoyed a glass of “The Idiot” Shiraz, a wonderful example of a cool climate Shiraz from the renowned local winemaker, Philip Shaw. I enjoyed it so much I bought a small case which probably won’t last very long!

It got me thinking that Australia is one of the few countries in the world where you could get away with naming your wine, “The Idiot”. I don’t think the Americans would think too much of it, or the Brits, and certainly not the French, and you wouldn’t expect the wealthy Chinese to serve a wine to their friends and business partners with the words “The Idiot” splashed on the label. Australia is truly unique in its celebration of quirky names, mateship, egalitarianism and a ‘fair go for all’ which, whilst admirable, doesn’t translate particularly well into more hierarchical cultures where aspirational names and symbols means as much (if not more) than the taste of the wine itself.

The gold standard for Australian wine brands in China is Penfolds who’s famous chinese name (奔富 pronounced ‘Ben Fu’) translates into “chasing the wealth” and is one of the reasons for the amazing success of their brand amongst premium wine consumers in the Chinese market. Penfolds labels consistently make up 7 to 8 of the top 10 wine selections in China, which suggests that they were on to something in their choice of such an aspirational and popular chinese brand name.

Names, brands, logos, symbols, imagery and stories are all important in a new and fast changing environment like China. With yesterday’s shock announcement about an “anti-dumping enquiry” targeted at Australian wine exporters, and China buying just over one third of Australia’s wine exports, the Australian wine industry will be drawing on all of its resources, reputation and relationships to protect its good name in the China market.

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