Wine Brands and Friendship

sharing wineAlphonso Cevola’s post last week on the future of Italian wine got me thinking more about the aesthetics of branding, which I wrote about recently.

Cevola’s argument is that Italian wine will continue to flourish because Italians are very good at building relationships.

No, I really think many of my Italian friends in the wine trade in Italy aren’t thinking about the transaction as much as the need to transform the hearts and minds of Americans (and other nationalities too).

The Italian approach to relationships is not transactional but genuine. Relationships are established not for the sole purpose of selling wine but for the purpose of sharing wine with those who appreciate it.

I think he is right about the Italian approach to relationships although I doubt it’s unique to Italy. I’ve encountered this sheer delight in sharing wine in most of the wine regions I’ve visited. But it is perhaps more prevalent in Italy or more central to the idea of what it means to be Italian.

Nevertheless, I think he hits on something important about what winery’s are selling. They are selling  wine to be sure, and they are also selling context—wine embedded in a story about geography, culture, and history. This is a key part of their brand. But Cevola suggests that successful wineries take geography, culture, and history and graft it to an authentic personal connection.

Making wine involves is a giving of oneself, not only one’s time, labor, or money but one’s passion, intensity and sensibility. Drinking wine is a shared appreciation of that passion, intensity, and sensibility. The commercial transaction brings people together but what is then created—a sharing of one’s essential being—means more than the commerce as if the wine is a means toward that larger aim of friendship. It’s not sufficient to have a story to tell. The story must be offered in friendship if it is to leave a lasting impression.

There is irony here. The best branding is not about branding at all.

Obviously, this is easier for small wineries to accomplish. It is one reason why small wineries capture the imagination of wine lovers.

Is this personal connection between winery and wine lover an aesthetic relationship or is it solely an ethical bond? This is actually a deep question for which I don’t quite have the answer. But there is little doubt that our aesthetic appreciation of a wine is affected by our understanding of the sensibility and commitment that go into its production.

3 comments

  1. I think you are missing an important element of branding in all of this, Dwight. For many wine consumers, wine is a way to express their personal style. They buy and drink the wines they do because they capture a sense of self that they find appealing. I would include such wines as Rombauer, Silver Oak, The Prisoner, and many others in this category. And I do not discount this same appeal for those who buy ‘arcane’ wines such as Grand Cru Burgundy and the like.

    Many people buy these wines because of what the wines say about them as people. And that is an absolutely critical element to branding.

    1. Hi Paul,
      I did think about that when I wrote the post last week. I agree that’s an essential part of branding but I stumbled over the question of whether it counts as an aesthetic experience or, as I argue, a kind of aesthetic attention. I understand aesthetic attention as in part perceptual and focused on an object.When someone experiences an object as expressing a personal style they are focused on the self as well an object but their relation to the self is not perceptual. So it isn’t obvious that such attention has the kind of absorption in an object that I think characterizes aesthetic attention. If you bring the self into the picture as an object, absorption begins to look like narcissism which I don’t think is the right way to understand it. So there are some philosophical puzzles here about how to think about the aesthetics of personal style. No doubt there is an apprehension of aesthetic properties but it isn’t clear to me how to characterize that apprehension.

  2. Branding is the essence of marketing. Marketing’s goal might well be summarized as promoting and enhancing the brand–usually with the ultimate goal of increasing sales or profitability of he brand or its products. Make no question about it, good marketing is focused on purely commercial goals, although it can (and should, in my opinion) address aesthetic issues as a way of achieving those goals. But that does seem to argue against any idea that the appreciation of wine is purely aesthetic…

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