While executives the world over debate how much of their advertising budget to spend on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram et al, and more traditional PR agencies laud the benefits of hard copy in face of the digital onslaught, in the wine village of Vosne Romanée, life carries on pretty much as usual. Except that life as usual, is actually quite unusual, at least from a brand development perspective.
For with a quantum of ad spend that would bring a smile to the face of the most parsimonious of CFO's, this sleepy village has created the world’s most famous and valuable wine brand. And it’s like a conjuring trick. Everyone in the wine world, and a lot of people not in it, would recognise the initials DRC - the hallowed acronym for Burgundy's Domaine de la Romanée-C0nti. But where is it? Corporate Headquarters - no thank you. Brand imagery? Brand what?. Not even a sign in the village indicating where they are (apart from the plaque!). You could spend half an hour walking the few streets that exist in Vosne and still not find them. The brand exists, and if anything gets stronger, in a counter advertising culture. It is not just that they do not do anything positive to promote the brand, they are actually in hiding from the demand! The only visible presence is the label on the wine bottles, the balding pate of supremo Aubert de Villaine, and the reverential publicity generated by being so successful. And of course, the plaque!
Well, it’s not magic, nor is it by accident, but rather the result of a strategy to continue a successful formulae. The ultimate example of less equals more. If providing information might dent the mystique, better not say anything!
The web site could support a thesis on the art of obfuscation. It appears to tell you everything, but actually says nothing - or at least nothing of interest to anyone who might like to know a bit more about the viticultural management of the estate. Is it organic? Biodynamic? Certified? Not a sausage. OK, well what about the history? The founding fathers, the Vergy family and the Monks of St Vivant? Not a mention. The plaque? - What plaque? The paucity of relevant information, and generality of what there is, would do credit to Donald on one of his better days. Of course, for purchasers of DRC, they do not give a fig what is or is not on the web site, - so why include something of interest, if you don’t need to? Less is more.
So where is the problem you may say? - Great product, early mover advantage, burgeoning world wide demand - a recipe for continued success. And the other winemakers in Vosne Romanée benefit from the halo effect. So on the face of it, no problem. The only question that might legitimately be asked, is whether, when so much of their success is due to the land, they might say a bit more about the benefits of clean farming in the hope that others might follow their example. A sort of social responsibility that goes with being the market leader. However to remove the mystique, might also lead to the conclusion that many other winemakers are now doing the same!
DOMAINE BRUNO CLAVELIER
On Monday this week we went to a tasting at the Domaine of former rugby player, Bruno Clavelier, on the Route Nationale in Vosne. This is a truly delightful Domaine, that does not need encouragement from anyone to promote the benefits of clean farming. And the web site is as clear an exposition of what they do, and why they do it, as you are likely to encounter.
“The estate practices biodynamics in cultivating its vines. It is a choice that is at one with our interest in nature. It also reflects our vision of the vine as an active plant that interacts with its environment. The vine has its own ability to react to events: climatic accidents, diseases, etc. The winemaker is there to help the plant to find the resources, and encourage it in its natural state. It is the exchange between the plant, the soil, and the light, that creates great wine.
To respect the environment, is to accept its diversity, including the presence of disease, that is not sought to be eradicated, but simply to be confined in a proper proportion. It is an attitude of listening, observing natural phenomena throughout the year, to try to understand them, to better accompany them. This is true in the vineyard, but also in the cellar, with an attitude to winemaking that seeks to understand the trajectory that the wine naturally seeks to take.
For Bruno Clavelier the project is not to make a wine with a particular taste profile. The only desire is to try to capture what the climate of the vintage and the terroir of each plot, have brought to the grapes each year.”
And the wines - from the Chardonnay vin de table, to the Corton Grand Cru, there is precision, balance and finesse. As we are shown samples of the soil conditions, and the rocks that make up the underlying strata of the plots for the wines that we taste, the flavours assume a greater significance, a meaning. It was the best and most convincing explanation of ‘terroir’ we have encountered, and the wines are fabulous. Trust a rugbyman to tell it like it is! Allez la France!