I was in a supermarket in Chile, with a very large wine section. I spent a lot of time to examine the bottles and read the labels in order to know more the Chilean wines. Somehow, in the section where there were the higher priced bottles, a small detail took my attention: There was the signature of the winemaker or of the owner on the labels, sometimes with a small sentence by them and sometimes only a signature on the corner. It made me very curious, why a winemaker signs the bottle of wine that s/he makes?
I made some brainstorming on my own in order to understand the reason. When you sign something, it means that it is your property. So, the winemaker registers the bottle to her/his name. But did the winemaker make that wine alone? Let’s think that you have a small vineyard, that you had planted, you are the only one in charge, you make the soil work, you make the pruning, you harvest it, you carry the grapes to the winery, you make the reception, you ferment it, you make other enological processes, you bottle it, you design the label and you make it completely ready to sell. Ok, now you can sign the bottle, because it’s yours! But when I see the signature of only one person, in a large scale production, I feel like somebody is discarding labor of a lot of people. Where is the signature of the person who pruned the vines? Where is the signature of the person who made the grape selection? And where is the signature of the nature that gave you the sun to mature your grapes? I know well that the winemaker can make a big difference on the quality of the wine with her/his decisions and s/he is the one who takes the responsibility of the big part of the game, but still there are many other factors and many people who has the effect on the wine.
As I go deeper on my curiosity about these signatures on the labels, I realize that this tendency of signing the labels is not unique to Chile, it is universal. Some of the wineries, around the world, use the names, quotes and signatures of the winemakers to have ‘a face’ to promote their wines. In the end, the consumers are not buying a wine of a winery that they know, but they buy a wine of a character that they know and they associate that wine with the identity of the winemaker.
The question is which strategy is better; to find a face to your wine and associate it with that or just put the name and the region of the winery in the front, without any faces. Like many questions about wine, also this question doesn’t have one correct answer. It might have different answers depending on where you are. But as a winemaker, and a consumer of wine, I prefer to buy a wine from a place, not from a person. I like the wines which come from the soil, pass from the hand of the producers as a “team” and find their place on the shelves as the pride of the region/country. I don’t like to see the signature of a person on my bottle, simply with one reason: Because, the wine is made from the soil, with a team and most of the times with a family, not by a single person.
Moreover I also believe, personally, the signature of the winemaker might go beyond the image of a winery, especially when the winemaker changes. If the winemaker of the Winery A, starts to work for Winery B, which wine will the consumers choose? Will they continue to buy the wines of the Winery A or will they also change to Winery B? Moreover, what will happen to the wines of Winery A with the new winemaker? Will the new winemaker continue to produce wines with the same quality and style or will it change completely upon his/her background?
With my curiosity on the topic, I’ve started to dig on the web to find some information. A research has been done in 2013, by Keri Kettle & Antonia Mantonakis. They made a study with 171 students from a North American University to examine their reactions on two topics; firstly the effect of a vintner’s personal signature on a bottle of wine on perceived quality, as indexed by willingness to pay, and secondly, how wine knowledge moderates this effect. They concluded the study with the presence of the producer’s personal signature on a label enhances consumers’ willingness-to-pay, but only to the extent that they associate the producer’s identity with high quality.
After reading this, my brainstorming got even more tempestuous. I’ve also realized that maybe the consumers see the signature on the bottles as a sign for the artisanal product and that gives them the sensation of a low quantity/high quality product. Well, that might be a reason to choose a wine with a signature on it, but still I am not very convinced. A winemaker can sign on one single label and that can be printed on thousands of bottles. Can we still count it as an artisanal product?
All in all, as a consumer and as winemaker, I don’t feel comfortable with the signatures on the labels. What do you think: Am I being rebel or do you agree with me? I would be glad to know your opinion. How do you feel about the signatures on the wine labels?
All images © 2017 by Nedret Neslihan IVIT. All rights reserved.
Kettle, K. Mantonakis A. (2013) Look for the Signature: Personal Signatures as a Cue for Quality. Retrieved from academyofbusiness.com, on February 01, 2017.