Marketing and wine varietal diversity

by Don Dougherty
(Portland, OR, USA)

You can comment on this story , or ask your own question

You can comment on this story , or ask your own question

Don Asks

The so called "wine boom" in the U.S. in the 1970's certainly increased the tendency for the worldwide wine market to label varietals (rather than regions). This approach has been further codified by the growth of wine exports from Australia and South America.

This naturally lead to marketing of (and increased popularity for) recognizable individual varietals. Even European winemakers have been influenced by this and, in effort to play to the market, now label by varietal for many "table wine" exports.

What I want to know is this: has the actual number of different Vitis vinifera varietals DROPPED significantly since the 1970's as winemakers pulled out "unpopular" varietals and replace them with more marketable names like Chardonnay and Merlot? Is marketing leading to extinction for some varieties?

Darby Says

The change form labeling by style to variety for table wine happened progressively through the 1970s in Australia. Before that Australian wines had names after (fairly imaginary) similarities to French wines. Thus we had Chablis, White burgundy, Riesling, Hock, Moselle for whites and Claret, Burgundy and Hermitage for reds. The names of the wines disguised the fact that most were blends and especially in the case of "Reisling" they were quite misleading. Australian wine made from the Riesling variety was labeled "Rhine Riesling" if the label said Riesling the wine was mostt likely a blend of Colombard, Trebbiano, Sultana table grapes, Doradillo, Crouchen,

The 1970s varietal make up included varieties which were later considered unsuitable and were subject to vine pull schemes, but most have survived. Some smarter growers and winemakers saw the value of varieites such as Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsaut. In the 1980s even Shiraz was considerd an inferior variety.

Marketing has certainly played a role in changing the varietal profile of Australian wine, we have seen fashion driven swings to varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. However the industry is far from homogenous. Many small and medium wineries have taken up the challenge of innovation and there are now certainly more varieites available here today, than at any time in the 200 year history of Australian wine. When I published Emerging Varietal wines in 2005 it covered 100 varieites. My 2010 Vinodiversity the book had 130.

Australian drinkers are becoming more discerning and adventurous. (I like to think that is playing a role here) The marketers my be running the show for the big companies but there is plenty happening outside the supermarket style wine scene.

Maybe I'm an optimist. Anyone else like to chime in with a comment?

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