"You can put anything you want on the back label of a wine...even the truth."
-Anonymous Okanagan Proverb
Do something for me. Head over to the product page for Le Vieux Pin's 2018 Petit Rouge.
Read the blurb. Now, do me another solid will ya, and study the picture above carefully.
Start at the top with the vintage. Then look at all the details listed. The yield. The blend. The ageing process. The production. The alcohol content.
Then, note that each of these three bottles is listed as the 2018 Le Vieux Pin 'Petit Rouge'.
Same SKU number. Same barcode. I checked.
Hmm. Remember what it said on the product page? It described a single wine.
What we have here is not a labelling mishap, but a pleasant surprise for curious minds and private eyes. Alright, maybe prying eyes would be a more appropriate choice of words, but I never pass up a chance to reference Hall & Oates.
Most winies, including myself, would clumsily attempt to politely call this wine the "leftovers" or the "entry-level option" or "lower-tier" without insulting either producer or consumer. Many wineries have a tier like this, and it's an essential tool in making the production of any hopeful premium or high-quality wine possible. Why?
Well, let's say you're a new producer and you're hot & hungry to produce a $50 premium red wine. A few things have to go your way here. First of all, you need mother nature to cooperate. Because if she doesn't, you're going to be left with a small amount of a wine that is likely not going to be worth $50. And if you want to build a brand and reputation around a $50 red wine, you're going to need some quality and consistency, or people will figure you out. In a shitty year, even doing a smattering of cases of said potential wine isn't going to allow you to keep the lights on for very long, never mind with any sort of integrity.
You need the all-important second wine.
The B team. The A-minus team. The C+ team. These players need somewhere to play, and they can play in the dirty areas and do some serious chores around the winery if you let them.
Every professional winery needs its own minor league, so to speak. You work so hard all year to try and produce something great. The often frustrating part is, you can work just as hard to make a wine that tastes like $20 as a wine that tastes like $50. But those $20's keep the lights on. The $20's offer appropriate value. And they ensure that the fruit that really doesn't belong in the majors has a place to play. It keeps the integrity of the $50 bottle intact. It ensures that $50 tastes like $50, and $20 tastes like $20.
Now, I mentioned the clumsy and slanderous nature of somehow labelling this second wine as less-than-great. Which brings me to the genius of the way Le Vieux Pin has carried out this necessity. As a 'boutique' winery (at least in presentation), I personally appreciate the elegant simplicity of their labels. You get the feeling that the labels were born in an artisan's lab, which, I suppose appropriately romanticizes the working environment of the winemaker.
There's no B.S. on the labels. No funny cartoon drawings or rare birds or ostentatious frill. There's just information. And information, if not the truth, can set you free. Form follows function. Style follows substance. I love it.
I understand the secret sauce method. Wine's mystique is in part due to a consumer having no comprehensible understanding about how it is made. But that lack of transparency has also led millions of consumers to be manipulated into thinking that their favourite wine is somehow legit juice and a solid representation of how honest, good wine is supposed to taste. That's troubling.
This is the plight of the wine industry. It's so fragmented in a global landscape, that we're a damn far sight away from achieving this very transparency that so many of us desire and that so many new wine drinkers could benefit from.
In the photos that follow, you'll see close-ups of three different 2018 Petit Rouge wines from Le Vieux Pin. Are they all similar? In the sense that you can tell they come from the same area, cellar, and hand, yes. But having drank them side by each, they all have a unique character that is definitely detectable, as it should be, because the blends, varietals, and ageing processes are different, too. It's a romantic experience, imagining the various extra barrels of wine lying around at different times in their decision making process. I love the fact that part of the branding of this particular wine is an element of precisely made randomness; the wine is well-made in each, but what you're getting is a crapshoot that depends on which lot was shipped to your store, when each individual leftover barrel became available, and the convenience of blending certain selections together to make as decent a finished product as possible.
It's honest. It adds an element of surprise to a part of their portfolio that otherwise wouldn't be celebrated the way their more premium offerings might.
It's like a secret that you're rewarded with for paying close attention. To boot, the wine is pretty good.
Happy thinking and happy drinking!