Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rigamarole wines make it without promotion

When the Okanagan's Artisan Wine Company launched its Rigamarole stable of wines last year, it was little more than a fun project between the winemakers and the marketers. The brand is a rising success. Quirky works - particularly when the wine is $16 a bottle but tastes like it should sell for more.

Perhaps the Artisan Wine Company is a new name to you. Think Mission Hill Family Estate Winery. Basically, Artisan is the holding company under which a number of wine brands, all made at the Mission Hill winery, are being managed.

The strategy is to build a complete wine company with a position in several segments of the market. Last year, Mission Hill recruited a California wine executive, Daniel Zepponi, with previous experience (at Foster's, among other companies) at running a multi-faceted wine group.

As the Artisan group matures, Mission Hill will be the icon property while Prospect Winery will encompass an affordable line of wines with a personality and labels exploiting Okanagan lore and legend, like Ogopogo.

The four-wine Rigamarole brand had been launched before Zepponi arrived last summer. He has been surprised at how well the brand has succeeded with minimal marketing. He wonders what the potential is if the Artisan team give the brand real push. Stay tuned.

This may be the [yellow tail] phenomenon at work again. The eye-catching labels succeed in getting consumers to take a bottle or two - or three - home. Why three? Because, in the case of the red blend and the white blend, there are three different labels. Apparently, the consumer who likes the Rigamarole White with the fainting goat label will go back for the one with the goose or the hedgehog on the label. Rigamarole Red offers a choice of an elephant, a zebra and a rhinoceros. The Sauvignon Blanc and the Rose each offer two label choices.

It may drive the bottling line nuts but it has caught on with consumers. Currently, there are about 4,000 bottles of the White, 2,700 bottles of the Red and 1,300 of the Sauvignon Blanc in various British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch stores (which are apparently sold out of the rose). Private wine stores will also have a good selection.

There is nothing wrong with buying a wine because the label catches the eye, at least the first time. That's how a label is supposed to work, especially with the entry-level wine consumers this is aimed at. Whether you buy the second bottle depends on how you liked the first.

The fact is these wines are well made. If your father-in-law has a wine cellar and a snooty attitude, he may disdain the labels but he is sure to like the wines, should you choose to serve them to him.

Rigamarole White 2007 is a tangy, aromatic blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and unnamed Germanic whites. It has a lush tropical aroma, refreshing grapefruit and lime flavours and a lingering dry finish. This is the absolute standout of the four.

Rigamarole Red 2006 is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Gamay and Pinot Noir. The wine is soft and ripe, with jammy fruit and an earthy hint on the finish.

Rigamarole Sauvignon Blanc 2007 is crisp and zesty, with flavours of grapefuit and with a nice mineral bite.

Rigamarole Rose 2007 is juicy and uncomplicated, with hints of cranberry and a dry finish.

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