Wednesday, December 30, 2015

McDowell Valley Vineyards

After reading Lettie Teague's take on the importance of commercial wine labels (WSJ May 23-24, 2015, "Labels of Love: What goes into Wine-Logo Design"), images of labels past began swimming through my mind.  Every wine retailer knows just how important labeling is in this business.  You can produce the best product ever but if your label doesn't sell your stuff, you may as well have bottled Modesto plonk! Fuggetaboutit!  As Teague notes, "a wine label is a wine's greatest sales tool, its sole emissary and a source of great wealth because it can make a good wine more desirable and a bad wine more salable".

Along with a history of good wine being damned with bad labeling there is also conversely a history of successful branding of inferior product with catchy labels but that's probably due as much to advertising as anything.  After being unimpressed after tasting a wine once, you wouldn't buy it a second time not matter how good the label, right?  Wait a minute.  Actually, come to think of it, chain stores are cashing in big time with shelves full of just that thing!

But who am I to criticize?  I've succumbed over and over again to admen's pitches without putting on my critical thinking cap and doing my due diligence in research.  It's just that being immersed in this business gives me leverage with my suppliers so that any purchasing mistakes on my part really are my fault.  There should never be any inferior wine in this store because I shouldn't allow it.

So why is this post entitled "McDowell Valley Vineyards" anyway?  Well, I was going to use McDowell as an example of a winery that never seemed to get their labeling right.  That is, I recall a series of three McDowell label changes twenty-thirty years ago that never resulted in a label that drew customers to it.  I was going to poke fun at that perceived ineptitude but then I decided to research McDowell first to see if my memory was accurate.  I consequently learned that McDowell had failed due to the economy.  I felt badly for them and then for myself for conceivably kicking someone when they were down.

This store should have failed due to the economic downturn.  Austerity be damned!  If people aren't spending money, businesses fail.  We all know deserving people who paid the ultimate life-and-livelihood price because of economic conditions beyond their control.  In McDowell's case grape harvest prices fell to half of what they were before the recession.  To hang on as they did for the couple more years of their existence just meant death by that many more stab wounds.  Austerity be damned!

McDowell was good though.  During their forty year run they produced solid Rhone-style reds and roses.  Theirs was the first dry-ish White Zinfandel I ever tasted.  It was so good it became the only White Zin I ever recommended.

I have concluded lighter colored labels sell better than dark ones, by the way.  I learned that from the McDowell changes twenty-thirty years ago.  I learned that from their label struggles.  I didn't have it figured out on my own.  I learned it from McDowell.