An amusing little Frog: French wine labels get funny

An amusing little Frog: French wine labels get funny
Matthew Campbell

WHAT do Arrogant Frog and Elephant on a Tightrope have in common? Faced with a slump in consumption and increasing competition from abroad (such as two British wines being voted the world's best), the French are suffering the indignity of having to pick funny names for their wine in order to sell it abroad.

At the top end of the market things are going well. The 2005 bordeaux vintage is fetching record prices in the futures market. Further down the scale, however, prospects are grim. Too much wine is being produced for too few buyers.

So great is the grape glut that the European Union wants to dig up some vineyards and convert part of the wine lake into industrial fuel. Rather than face that humiliation, producers are listening through gritted teeth to the marketing gurus. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” said one disgruntled wine-maker from Languedoc in southern France.

The movement is gathering steam. “Bread is branded,” said Pierre Courbon, international marketing director of a French company set up to sell a new brand called Chamarré, or “richly coloured”. “Why not wine?” Domestic resistance will be fierce, however, particularly to bottles such as Arrogant Frog. This is hardly the name most likely to appeal to domestic consumers.

“I was shocked,” said Heidi Vincent of Chateau Online, an internet wine seller.

The label shows an imperious looking frog in an overcoat. It is available in “ribet red” and “ribet white”. This sort of marketing is not the only thing calculated to set some French oenophiles ranting about the end of civilisation.

It might “leap out of the glass with panache and élan”, in the words of the advertisements, but it is also sealed with — quelle horreur — a screw cap “designed to preserve freshness and youthful appeal”.

Jean-Claude Mas, the creator, is said to be still getting on with his neighbours. The chances are that they, too, are trying to come up with a funny label.

An example of that is Le Freak. Its producers say they hit upon the name to reflect the unusual notion of mixing white and red grapes.

As for Elephant on a Tightrope, the producers say this is all about “balance”, a popular word among wine makers. Elephants are known for their balance and extraordinary sense of smell.

Indeed, animals seem to be more effective — particularly among younger consumers — at selling wine at this end of the market than the names of French regions.

The animal fad can be traced to Australia where Yellow Tail, featuring a wallaby on the label, has become the top-selling imported wine in America, selling more than 7.5m cases last year. (external - login to view) . . .
What a boring story indeed!

British is Best: British wine, the 1998 Nyetimber Classic Cuvee, has been voted the world's best, at a time when French wines struggle.

'I say darling, have you tried this new French wine?
'What's it called?'
'Chateau Le Pen'
'No I haven't actually, but a very Gallic name, What's it like?'
'Well, it's difficult to describe really - but it does reflect modern France - an unmistakable blend of heady aromas including a distinct whiff of Chirac's crotch, more than a hint of Jospin's jockstrap and a murmour of the sole of Segoline's shoe. Fancy a glass?'
'Well, sounds original and nice of you to offer, but couldn't we just stick to Nyetimber?'

When it comes to the centuries-old battle of culture between Britain and France, I think we can all agree that the British have won.

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