Making wine is not a paint-by-numbers formula that can be repeated each year without thought. The nature of working with nature is that things change, and there are no guarantees. Not all vintages will be the same, and not all grapes within the same plot or vintage will produce the same wine. For Kapiti producer Ohau Wines, celebrating this diversity with wine bottled under different labels at two price points makes good business sense.
Whilst some vines and some vintages (hooray to 2013!) produce the very best in fruit, not every grape, vine or vintage is going to at the same standard each season. This is where sub-brands and second labels come in to compete for your dollar. You will have seen them. All of a sudden there is a sub-$15 Sauvignon Blanc on the supermarket shelf, in great quantity, that you’ve never seen before – and perhaps in six months’ time, will never see again. This is often wine made by a known producer, who rather than risking brand positioning by bottling a not-quite-up-to-scratch wine, will sell off or label the wine anonymously. Those more savvy producers will put their own name on that second label.
Bottling wine under a premium and second label is a practice that stretches back to Bordeaux in the 1700s. A second wine made from blends or barrels not selected for use in the Grand Vin, or first label, enabled producers to use a stricter selection (and keep the high price tag) for their Grand Vin. Capitalising on their name and distribution channels, producers also used second labels to hold on to cash, whilst gaining new fans who did not have access to the higher-priced wines.
On-the-edge Kapiti producer Ohau Wines follows the same philosophy. Bottling the very best that the vineyard produces in the premium Ohau Gravels label allows winemaker Jane Cooper to be painstakingly selective in the grapes used in this wine. Letting the vineyard “speak to her”, Cooper will choose individual vines from selected rows for the Ohau Gravels brand. The grapes that miss that top label by just a smidgen are bottled as Ohau’s second label, Woven Stone.
The people at Ohau Wines are proud of this. Rather than anonymously selling off their second wine, Woven Stone has become a competitive calling card, attracting new customers to the Ohau brand. As Ohau Wines’ long-time brand developer Donna Riley puts it, “Woven Stone is a supermarket brand, but it’s our supermarket brand, and we are proud of what is inside the bottle.” Both labels offer above-average quality for their price points.
This is the key. Challenging circumstances can demonstrate the skill of a winemaker, and the confidence a producer has in the quality of its product – especially when that producer is bold enough to bottle the second wine under its own name. Business aside, the result is also excellent: enjoying wine more.[info]
Woven Stone Pinot Noir 2012 by Ohau Wines
This is definitely a lighter wine – but then that’s what Pinot Noir is supposed to be. It’s a great accompaniment to my home-made hamburgers, thanks to its cherry-fruit compote flavours and kick of spice on the finish. This juicy Pinot Noir satisfies and enchants. Now I have a choice: a bottle of Woven Stone Pinot Noir for a Tuesday night, and a bottle of Ohau Gravels Pinot Noir for showing off to my friends.