France has traditionally marketed its wine with a ““Château”” mindset, promoting itself as the world’s foremost winemaker. The sale of the “Château” Latour-Laguens in the Bourdeaux area to a Chinese buyer aroused many eyebrows, since China does not have a strong winemaking tradition. What about custom? What about genuineness? But I question if any alarm is merited. In fact, I wonder whether this is not an opportunity to preserve a fading brand.
I am a sommelier by accident, having trained with the Italian Institute of Sommeliers (AIS). Throughout my three-year study, I often inquired about French marketing and the “Château” attitude. Contrary to popular belief, not all French or Bordeaux wines are traditionally “excellent” wines. However, the “Château” brands maintained their market domination for decades, mostly because to their provenance.
In recent decades, however, circumstances have altered, and France’s wine exports have suffered. When presented with a superb Australian or Chilean wine offered at a fraction of the price of a poor Bordeaux, consumers are increasingly opting for the former. In the meanwhile, many French winemakers sat on their laurels, did not invest in new barrels or investigate new technology, and began to lose ground to New World winemakers.
This leads us back to “Château” Latour-Laguens, which has for a long time relied more on its pedigree than on the quality of its product.
The new owner of “Château” Latour-Laguens, Zuochang Cheng, recognises the significance of marketing and the value of reputation. And he is also considering the significance of both in his larger distribution ambitions for China. However, he must realise that possessing a “Château” and the “Château” brand is not sufficient. In addition to boosting wine production, he and his daughter must invest in a brilliant winemaker, new barrels, and cutting-edge winemaking equipment in order to produce a wine they can be genuinely proud of. It may take years for the ““Château”” factor’s significance to become apparent.
I do not believe that “châteaux” such as “Château” Latour-Laguens need protection against non-French purchasers or “globalisation.” They are essentially worthless without a decent wine. And this is the most important lesson: “branding authenticity” is excellent, but it must be supported by a superior product.
originally posted on hbr.org