04 June 2009

Good Lord! The critters are coming!!!

What is your thinking on what the American’s call ‘critter’ wines? Critter wines are those with animals on the label. There was a flood of them in a decade ago including the hippo on Fat Bastard, the kangaroo on Yellow Tail and the goat on Goats do Roam. These three wines were justifiably very successful and inspired tanker loads of ‘me too’ critter labelled wines but few of them reached the quality of FB or GdR and critter labels became, in many consumer’s opinions, a sign of a cheap mass-branded wine.

Which is why I was amazed to hear that one of South Africa’s top wines, which has a name that others would kill for, is considering losing its name and adopting a critter label…

Yes, it is Neethlingshof who are intending abandoning their premium Lord Neethling brand for critters. Pictured is a mock-up of the replacement for the Lord Neethling Pinotage label. Many wineries encourage birds of prey to their vineyards. The Owl Post on the Pinotage label refers to those erected to encourage owls into the vineyards. Another label in the range that I saw showed a rare wild cat in mid-air leap plucking a bird out of the sky. Not the owl, I think.

I suppose the thinking went something along the lines of ‘it was ‘time for a change’ (the never ending cry of new brand managers who want to make their mark), the success of other ‘critter’ labels (although they’re not so fashionable now and are considered downmarket) and a chance to leap on the sustainability wagon (while possibly upsetting bird and furry animal lovers). And maybe the argument that a ‘Lord’ was elitist and old fashioned.


I am no marketing expert, but … If you have a premium wine doesn’t the ‘Lord’ name make it clear that this is the top win ein the range? Does Owl Post immediately identify a top wine?

Is ‘Lord’ old-fashioned? Surely the great thing about this name is that it is ironic! Neethling was nicknamed ‘lord’ because of his airs and graces. What a great back story! I think the existing label is fine, but if they want to ‘get down wiv d’ yoof’ how about cartoon illustrations of ‘Lord’ Neethling in different situations with a back label giving the story behind it.

Looking at CellarTracker.com, which indexes more than 13 Million bottles, I see acres of owls including Barking Owl, Burrowing Owl, Thirsty Owl, Owl Hill, Night Owl, Hoot Owl, Naked Owl, Owl Ridge, Owl Creek, Winking Owl, Barn Owl, Mr Owl, Owl Box, and Winking Owl.

But Lords? Just four: Lord Rutherford , Lord Culpeper Lord Botetourt and Lord Baltimore.

I’ll make two predictions. Firstly, no matter whatever label is slapped on the bottle the wine inside will be continue to be excellent. Winemaker DeWet Viljoen doesn’t get the acclamation he deserves but he’s making some cracking good wines under the venerable ‘N’ label.

Secondly, Lord Neethling will return. It is too good a name to disappear under a menagerie

Note how even the Neethlingshof Estate name is being down played. Sigh ....


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