Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Label this winery eager to share info

Opened a bottle of Albarino, a dry white we had bought from Black Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy, Md., earlier this year. It was one we tasted during a visit and really liked; that and the fact that it's almost a novelty, difficult to find from anyplace in the world outside of Spain and still a very rare commodity coming out of the East Coast. Luscious just to sip or with seafood, it was a perfect complement to a post Christmas meal.

But this isn't a post so much about the wine as the winery and its decision to provide so much detail on the back label. On the back of my bottle, for instance, was the following:

Geology: Decomposing slate laced with veins of quartz

Slope orientation: North

Number of vines/acre: 1895

Yield/per acre: 2.6 tons

Date of harvest: September 18

Quantity produced: 80 cases

I've spent much of my time with this blog writing about what's inside the bottle. But a lot of research has been done on the value of the labels when it comes to sales. Mark Chien, the first wine grape extension agent for Penn State Cooperative Extension, wrote in a newsletter last month that, on the whole, this state's wineries need to put more time and thought into their labels. This came in the middle of a review of the Farm Show competition held in New Jersey. Chief wrote:

"Some comments from judges on topics other than wine . . . as a group, Pennsylvania wineries need to upgrade the quality of their labels including design, color schemes, freshness, cleanliness, etc. Packaging and design are WAY out of my area of expertise except as a consumer. But there is no denying the importance of design to selling wines. One person commented that he would not buy a particular wine because the label looked amateurish and gave the impression that the wine would be also. I admit, most of our wines are hand sold so maybe it isn’t quite as important here but we need to be thinking past our own tasting rooms into the realm of popular and critical wine consumerism. It was also pointed out that too many Pennsylvania wines carry proprietary names and do not indicate what grape varieties are in the wine. This goes against the trend by most wineries to include more information about the wine, not less."

I wrote to Ed Boyce, co-owner of Black Ankle, asking why they decided to put so much information on the label. His response?

"The idea for the back labels was to communicate that we are focused on the vineyards, and that we are serious about the wines first and foremost [we need to fight the stereotype of the typical eastern wine]," he wrote. "We loosely patterned the back labels on the the Calera labels [you can see them on the Calera Web site); we would like to do a map like they do, but haven't yet figured out how to make it work for us."

Black Ankle opened in September and has kept limited hours compared to most other wineries in the region. Yet, between those visiting the winery and the numerous other locations around Maryland where the wines are sold, Boyce said sales have been a "bit wild. We are almost out of Chardonnay and Gruner Veltliner, and the Albarino is not too far behind," he wrote. "The reds are actually selling even faster, but we started out with a lot more of those. Anyway, we are pretty happy with the first few months!"

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