Look who’s stealing our reputation
The good news about New Zealand’s wine industry is that it not only does, generally speaking, a good job of making its products, but of branding and marketing them as well. You could quibble about the make-up of the sector when all of the largest, except Villa Maria, is foreignowned and thus not strictly ‘New Zealand’ companies. But overall, buying New Zealand wine, anywhere in the world, is a pretty safe bet.
Which is why it was dismaying last week to encounter the other side of the equation as I was sitting in a Melbourne bar looking for brands of New Zealand wines that I had actually heard of. Other than Cloudy Bay – a famous LVMH brand with a passing association with New Zealand – I’d heard of none of them.
In the interests of research I ordered a New Zealand sauvignon blanc that went by the name of ‘Upside Down’ – which should perhaps have served as a warning but thirst is a tough taskmaster at times and so it appeared in front of me. It was AU$10 for a glass that in hindsight was at the high end of what it was actually worth – certainly far more than it would have cost to make.
Now I will confess that I’ve had my fair share of sauvignon blanc in my life – New Zealand, French, Chilean, Argentinian, and so forth. I’ve had sweet, dry, thin, full, oaked and even fizzy versions of this varietal and I’m generally quite good-natured about all of them (although I have to admit fizzy has yet to really grab me). And, I’ve lived in China, where you have to be adaptable when it comes to wine.
‘Upside Down’ sauvignon blanc, however, had an astringency to it that Unilever would have been proud to put in its household cleaners portfolio. In fact, I may have just invented a replacement for the omnipresent ‘lemon fresh’ as a brand variation. “Now with the added power of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand” has quite a ring to it.
Intrigued with the astringency of this hitherto unknown New Zealand brand I browsed the back label hoping to find the winemaker so that I could write them an abusive letter, but discovered instead that this had been bottled in Australia. What a surprise!
Upside Down’ sauvignon blanc, however, had an astringency to it that Unilever would have been proud to put in its household cleaners portfolio.”
And worse, an idiot who presumably had never sent any time outside Dandenong could only have written the brand ‘legend’ on the back label. Here it is – and Kiwis, take a deep breath:
“Upside Down is a play on ‘Down Under’ and reminds us that things are a little different in New Zealand, sitting at the bottom of the world, where everything seems a little upside down! New Zealand is known for having birds that cannot fly (The Kiwi), a national love for bag pipe music, and a country with a love for a nice, warm cuppa, yet is still renowned for producing world class cool climate wines, like this Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc! (Ironically to be enjoyed on the long, hot summer days that never quite make it that far south!)”
Bagpipes? A warm cuppa? No long hot summer days in the South Island?