Friday, August 1, 2014

Orin Swift Red Wine Flight - Unique Labeling - Imaginative Wines

Orin Swift Red Wine Flight - Unique Labeling - Imaginative Wines - A Lesson in Wine Marketing and Branding

For a another casual Friday night wine and cheese plate tasting, we sampled a flight of Orin Swift Napa Reds.  After our Orin Swift Abstract Red Wine Blend tasting last week, DOC in Yorktown Lombard offered a Orin Swift Red special flight. Once again we had the Butcher's Plate with a pairing of cheeses - aged cheddar and Old Amsterdam, with pate and cured salmon. While his wines tend to carry his innumerable style of bold expressive somewhat eclectic blends, his branding is confusing and disjointed.

As a student and practitioner in marketing, and a wine geek, I'm regularly studying and commenting on wine marketing. After tasting and writing about Orin Swift wines twice last week, it was natural to try this special offer flight. I had no knowledge of the three label names on offer - Orin Swift 'Saldo', 'Machete' Blend and 'Palermo' Napa Valley Red Blend wines. As an avid wine collector, writer and taster, I thought I knew something about Orin Swift wines. While I had no knowledge of any of these labels. after tasting, I asked the server to pull the bottles so I could see their labels and packaging. Only then did I realize I recognized and had seen all the labels, but I never associated them with or knew them to be Orin Swift offerings. Such the essence of a failure in typical or classic branding - or is it unique madness or genius in branding?

Last week, when I wrote about Abstract, I also wrote about a tasting where I took two Orin Swift wines, the 'Prisoner' and 'Papilllon'. While I have seen these three labels before, and recognize these labels, not until tonight's tasting experience did I associate all these labels with being from the same producer, let alone associate them with these other rather well known ones. If I fail to make this connection, with all the attention I pay to wines, a casual or typical consumer is lost on the brand. To complicate or confuse matters further, the Prisoner brand, which has taken on a loyal almost cultish following has been sold and is no longer an Orin Swift offering.

Indeed, on my Rick's WineSite(TM), I have a Wine Label Library that features photos of thousands of wine labels from my collection, tastings and encounters. On the library page, I feature a section on Art & Artist Series Wine Labels and another section on Notable Wine Labels. The former are chosen for their distinctive style and branding affinity. The latter are chose for their notable and memorable branding - both good and bad or certainly uniquely different.

Some of the artist wine label libraries are classics such as perhaps the two most notable, Chateau Mouton Rothschild with its annual label featuring original art from a famous artist, and Marilyn Merlot Series featuring the famous Hollywood starlet.

Orin Swift Palermo Label
Notably, I have featured Orin Swift Palermo (shown left) on the second page as an example of a 'bad' label idea. Yea, tonight when I ordered the wine flight and tasted the wine, I did not associate it with that label until the server presented the bottles afterwards upon my request.

It doesn't help that there is another producer with a similar name with the same penchant for weird, sometimes outrageous wine labels. I now realize I often confuse those wines of Orin Swift with those of Owen Roe!  Such is the ultimate in poor or unique branding.

On my 'bad' wine label page, I show the Orin Swift Palermo label and Owen Roe's 'Sinister Hand'. You need to read the back label on that bottle for the story that explains the ghoulish name. I write on my page, "Another instance of 'what were they thinking?' Easy to confuse Orin Swift (Napa) and Owen Roe (Columbia) (above) - same dark perspective or approach ... Many of the Orin Swift labels have an eery sense about them .."

In the end, its all in the eye of the beholder. You be the judge. In the same way, that wine is just grape juice, the labels are mere marketing and promotion of the bottle and brand. Like the case where bad publicity is better than no publicity, perhaps memorable bad wine labels are better than unmemorable labels. After tasting Orin Swift Palermo, I wanted to see the label. After seeing the label, I am not sure I'd be drawn to taste the wine!

Talk about branding confusion, not until after I write my piece above, do I read the Orin Swift Machete website when I pull down the link below, that says, "**Bottled with 12 Different Labels, you may not receive the one pictured**." It links to a pdf with pictures of twelve labels of various poses of a scantily clad woman and a vintage old Cadillac, brandishing a machete in various poses, plus one totally different label of alpha graphics. See a portfolio of a selection of these labels below. Perhaps there is genius in this label madness if the collection of Machete labels become collectables in their own right. In any event, there is uniqueness and fun, if not weirdness in the selection of shots from the photo shoot. Perhaps it is working since I'm writing about it here, and featuring his selection of labels below, and you are reading about it.

The Wines ...

Orin Swift Palermo Red Wine Blend 2012

A Bordeaux blend of predominant Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Dark inky purple colored, medium bodied, nicely balanced, moderately complex vibrant expressive black berry, black and sweet red currant fruits, sweet tobacco, hints of vanilla, cedar, oak and touch of cocoa, with a medium firm tannin lingering finish. Bright vibrant fruits almost taste like a Shiraz on the front.

RM 91 points.

Orin Swift Machete Red Wine Blend 2012

A blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Grenache. I think its the Grenache that takes on the slightly metallic minerality that detracts from the fruit. Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, complex forward slightly disjointed competing flavors of ripe blackberries, black raspberries, toasty oak, dark mocha tones with hint of expresso on a moderate tannin finish. 

RM 89 points.

Orin Swift Saldo Zinfandel  Red Wine 2012

Bright garnet colored, medium bodied, rather simple narrow focused flavorful sweet dark berry ripe plum and cola flavor with tones of mocha, vanilla and spice.

RM 88 points.

A blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.

Another examples of Orin Swift unique labeling is their premium label Mercury Head which features an actual American Mercury Head dime coin affixed to the bottle.

Orin Swift Veladora Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Orin Swift Machete Label Library