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Wine & Photography – some further thoughts

My previous post solicited a few responses which I felt I had to respond to here and here.

The interesting thing is that photography could do lots of different things for wine. It COULD be about the tasting experience. It COULD be just about selling the product and packaging recognition.

But I think it COULD be so much more. I should point out that the whole reason for this blog is not to sell any wine, but to talk about how important wine is, or could be, in our society.

Let’s take them separately so I can explain my thinking, and the differences.

PHOTOGRAPHY AS A TASTING NOTE
As we have discussed, there are those who are already trying this, in particular Chateau Petrogasm. The point of the image is to express something unique or descriptive about what is INSIDE the bottle. They do not need to pick a brand for this as this concept applies to any wine. This is a very useful addition to the communications armoury of any winery or retailer.

The limitations of this, in terms of adding to the general perception and role of wine, is that it targets those who have pretty much already decided they could buy this product, but they would like to know a little more about exactly what they will experience when they open it.

But what about the undecideds?

PHOTOGRAPHY AS A SALES DRIVER
mince pieThe important point that Andrew made was that selling wine requires context. I agree. He mentions the kind of photography he likes, and happens to be very good at, which is wine and food. The photograph acts as a means to communicate an ideal occasion and partnership for the wine, be it food or location.

There may be people out there who had not yet conceived of buying wine, but whose occasion matched the image (dinner party, specific food match, …) who would be influenced by the communication of this image.

The trouble is, neither of these reasons does what I set out to do, which is to use photography to say something about the role of wine, or a SPECIFIC brand of wine, in an individual’s life or generally in our culture (the wine conversation).

[Photo by Wine Scribbler (Andrew Barrow) :: Unfortunately for a post about photography I do not have access to photos of these topics as I have simply made them up, so to brighten up this post I am borrowing one of Andrew Barrow's excellent photos for you to enjoy.]


PHOTOGRAPHY AS BRAND COMMUNICATION TOOL

Lots of wines will taste of brambles and spice. Many of these wines will be a great match for lamb and lentils. But which would you choose?

How about the one that is drunk by a George Clooney look-alike, whilst resting in a large leather armchair in an oak panelled room, and being served his food on a silver tray?

“I’ll have what he’s having!” It says ‘I like old fashioned luxury’.

Or maybe it is a wine that has refreshing citrus and exotic fruit flavours? Maybe you’d choose one that was matched to a grilled fish with cous-cous and aubergine tapenade drizzled with olive oil and set against a Greek sunset?

But how about the one that has diamonds drizzled in a glass instead, and shows the sunset from the deck of a yacht whilst the pristine white towel sits on the deck chair awaiting its mistress’ return from her dip in the sea?

“I’ll have what she’s having!” It says ‘I’m a modern, independent person used to always getting the best’.

This is branding. I could go on and maybe vary the target groups a bit more. How about a message about an active, independent retiree enjoying a moment of well-deserved relaxation with the family? Or how about a young woman surprising her partner with a bottle of wine as a little bit of just-affordable-luxury with their fish & chips to celebrate them buying their first apartment together?

The message does not have to be about the wine or even how it is consumed. It should be about what makes this wine different from all other wines, and what buying it, or consuming it, says about that person (even if they do not like it).

Champagne does exactly this. Spirits do this. Why not still wine?

Wine has not really come to terms with this and continues to focus so much on the product itself rather than these ‘extended’ features of the brand, something which is second nature to anyone in most other consumer marketing fields.

I am not advocating selling wine solely on this basis, as one of the things that separates wine from many other products is its “agricultural/natural” authenticity and individuality, and its continuously evolving nature. However, wine is a luxury, whether we like it or not, and there is a LOT of competition in this field from people and products who can do this better.

Whilst thinking about this topic I have browsed through the latest wine magazines on my desk and the quality of imagery in the advertising, other than for champagne, is woeful. I thought about it, but decided I will not even bother to reproduce them.

If wine producers ever want to sell their wine for more than simply the cost of production, and sometimes not even that, then they are going to have to start communicating some of the ‘other’ benefits of their brands.

So, is there a photo out there that says some of these things above about wine (ANY wine) without actually having to involve a glass or a bottle? Or at least only peripherally?

What emotions, actions, associations … do we have with wine that could be expressed visually so as to say something new about wine?

Maybe this is a meaningless quest, but I think it is worth at least asking the question. No?

Wine and Photography – some thoughts

Andrew Barrow from Spittoon is, as I have said before, a great photographer of wine ‘occasions’, particularly setting them off against food matches. Check out his photos here. He also pointed me to a friend’s photos here.

He and I have had a brief conversation about this some time ago, and I thought I would share my issues with this subject here in case others have any suggestions.

If you ask someone for a “wine” photo, you will get:

- a bottle shot, with or without props
- a vineyard shot
- a glass of wine (funny angle not required); swirling or dripping extra
- a smiling couple/group at a table with glasses raised

However well executed these shots are (and some are better than others), they have been done before by someone else. What is happening in 2007 with wine that we want to communicate? Is there nothing different today than there was 2, 10, 20, 50 years ago? I think there is, and we need to think about the visual language of how we get this across.

Let me give a comparative example culled from about 45 seconds searching on flickr.com

If wine were … snowboarding, then this is the photo we are using (This photo by Anh Quan). There is nothing wrong with it. It shows boards, the design alternatives and the set up is fine.

However, snowboaring enthusiasts might use this type of shot (Photo by T A K K):

Relevant, active, engaging, atmospheric, fun, modern, youthful, … good!

You might even go so far as saying that if you removed the board from the photo, there are still enough clues for the target market to say “Snowboard!” (or whatever a cool snowboarder actually says).

This is exactly what the perfume business and soft drinks markets already do. Perfumes are all about beautiful people being terribly attractive.

Soft drinks are the same. A can is boring, but Wayne Rooney draining a can after a tough game whilst condensation drips from the can or bottle is not. Of course we cannot, by law, do many of these same things for wine at least in the EU, but the concepts are there.

So, if snowboarding or perfumes were wine, what photos should we be taking to make it relevant, active … and all those other nice words up there?

Now, Chateau Petrogasm has attempted to move in this area, although not directly. Their concept is to link a photo (or an image more generally) with a tasting note. This is radical, and fun, but it is about the taste of the wine. I am still thinking a little more broadly about how photography might capture the essence of a wine brand.

Tom Wark at Fermentation also mentioned a similar issue recently, although relating to the graphics for the entire catalogue and not about a single wine or brand.

I believe that this area is ideal fodder for more creative bloggers who have a decent artistic streak and mastery of a camera.

Question: How would you ‘capture’ a wine brand WITHOUT showing a bottle, a glass, winery or vineyard? Has it been done? Any suggestions for specific brands (polite only please!)?

And then (you knew it was coming), how might we communicate the Wine Conversation and therefore the role of wine in our culture(s) in general using photography (bottles and glasses allowed this time)?

Binge drinking and tax

I want to comment on the latest moves to increase the tax on alcohol in the UK ostensibly to address the issues of “problem” drinking.

Unfortunately I don’t even know where to start and I am rushed.

I’ve commented before that governments seem to be unable to think straight when it comes to alcohol. They need to be seen to do something because the media (in particular) loves to act all puritanical when it comes to bashing politicians (whilst simultaneously celebrating the outrageous lifestyles of certain ‘celebrities’).

This means that politicians can use very simplistic solutions that both please the media hacks and generate revenue for the Treasury whilst claiming to be acting in the public good. Unfortunately it is usually rubbish.

Raising duty on alcohol even further will not do anything to stop underage drinking, or weekend binge drinking, or even to reduce alcoholism. All it does is tax the vast majority who do drink sensibly. Not only that, but it perpetuates the drive towards low-cost, mass produced drinks brands that can afford to counter the price increases and build market share. These drinks do not have the kind of history or role in our society that encourages responsible enjoyment of the alcohol. Their goal is bigger volume so as to generate the necessary economies of scale to justify their investments.

The effect is to kill off any independent producers’ & retailers’ markets, and with them the chance of a mature drinking culture.

PLEASE lets have a sensible discussion about WHY we drink too excess in the UK, and other parts of the world (because we do) before we kill off the most sensible way out of this situation.

A better attempt at wine in Tetra Pak

[... or my revised title: "Thinking of Outside the Box" - see comments]

Le Village du Sud is a new brand concept from the well respected Mont Tauch cooperative in the South of France (specifically in Fitou).

It caught my attention as, once again, they are being pretty innovative with their branding and their route to market. They have usually provided wines that are a cut above the competition, and they have also been much more willing to take on marketing activities, such as bringing wine makers and grape growers (who speak no English but really look the part) to wine tastings across the UK, including the BBC Good Food Show where I saw them.

This time it is the Tetra Pak, something I have written about in the past. Once again it is available from The Coop. They are certainly keener than most to do something ‘sustainable’ and positive for the environment – whether environmentally friendly or fairtrade.

The wine in question is an Old Vine Grenache in a 1 litre tetra pak. The packaging itself is a little different, with extra angles and a “prism shape”. However, what I found intriguing is that they have managed to move the design away from being a pseudo glass bottle. They have realised that a tetra pak allow you to do a lot more with the packaging than simply copy the information from a label (which is always extremely limited) or to show a picture of a bottle or glass (the usual cop-out).

This one has a series of cartoons that give the wine an extra dimension of personality not usually associated with Vin de Pays d’Oc, especially as it is in English. This is very bold, forward-thinking and fun.

Shame about the wine!

As I always point out, this is not a site for tasting notes, but I did try this wine to see if I could detect something specifically “tetra pak like” in it, just to see if the packaging affected the taste. Now, I admit this was not done blind, but I have no problem liking wines in other packaging, so I was not negatively predisposed. However, I found a very unpleasant aftertaste in the wine which I assume must come from the packaging as I do actually like their wines normally. I’d love to read more informed views on whether this is a truly inert packaging format for wine.

Finally, a niggle. If you look at the front of the packaging, you’ll see a badge which I also saw on the previous tetra pak I reviewed called masterpeace.

“33% free” and “33% more wine free compared to a standard 75cl bottle”

FREE? There are lots of objections to this statement, chief of which is that this wine is NOT available in 75cl glass bottles, so how can it possibly be compared? Also, this wine was already discounted, ostensibly for the launch, from £4.99 to £3.99. Quite how much of a cheap and “drink loads” mentality do they want to associate with this wine?

I do hope that 1L formats will not keep using this statement.

Overall review; nice idea, but once again more show than substance, largely due to the final quality of the wine.

The Wine Show

It is very last minute I know, but if you are keen to explore more wines from around the world you might want to check out the show going on RIGHT NOW at the Business Design Centre in London.

The Wine Show is a consumer event that I believe is in its third year already and attracts over 10,000 people to try all sorts of wines.

Last year it was quite exciting (some interesting Greek wines stand out in my memory) and I must admit I think this year’s show is a little dull in comparison, but for consumers who want to learn about wines, it is always worth seeking out opportunities to try wines like this.

I did see a number of smaller producers and specialist importers had small stands that I’m sure would be worth exploring, but unfortunately I did not get a chance to linger.

I believe today (Saturday) is sold out, but there may be tickets for tomorrow.

If you do go, let me know what you think of the show.

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