“The message for the American public has to be very simple,” says Veronika Wills, whose father is a winemaker at Spěvák, in Czech Republic’s Moravia region. Her company, Wills International, imports and distributes its wines in the United States
One need only consider the Sideways effect to understand the truth in that statement. “I am not drinking any f*cking Merlot” is as simple as it gets, and it had an instantaneous and profound impact on the grape’s sales for years.
For many New World or emerging wine regions, a succinct message often comes down to a signature varietal wine on which to stake their claim.
Malbec became the unifying grape for Argentine winemakers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, while New Zealand’s fruit-forward expression of Sauvignon Blanc is perceived as more approachable and affordable than Sancerre. For some consumers, “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc” has almost become a variety unto itself.
But what of places where the winemaking hallmark is variety over varietal? Many countries or regions can produce exceptional wines. Yet, if they’re not synonymous with a single grape, it can be a longer road to international prestige than neighboring places with a strong connection to a varietal wine.
Mexico, Czech Republic and Washington State are examples of places where winemakers and distributors seek to raise visibility without a signature grape to promote. While each explore different approaches, there’s consensus among key players that such visibility is important.
“If you want to be a world-class wine region, you better go out and play on the world stage,” says Chris Stone, vice president of marketing and communications for the Washington State Wine Commission.
Mexican Wine as High-End, Nouveau Mediterranean
The Mexican winemaking landscape, and specifically its largest wine-producing area, Baja California, doesn’t lack for options.
“You have more than 100 different grapes, plus sparkling, red, white, rosé and even a little bit of dessert wine,” says Sandra Fernández, winemaker and wine director of Playa del Carmen’s Hoteles Xcaret resorts. “So, in a word, I would say, it’s ‘diverse.’”
Mexico has the oldest winemaking tradition in the Western Hemisphere. However, that it even produces wine escapes some consumers, even within its own borders. It’s far eclipsed especially compared to the popularity and volume of agave-based spirits.