The following was inspired by my own responses to an interview by Benjamin Tucker, for his dissertation on Franciacorta as a brand for a BA Honours degree in Public Relations with Marketing…
Brand identity takes time to establish, but a brand, whether a single producer or an appellation, can make a big splash when entering a new market, if it has the right vision and mission. A brand owner must understand its own quality and intended image with an honesty that not only recognises its potential, but also acknowledges its own limitations. With this vision, the mission is quite simple: to identify the most appropriate market sector, to profile consumers within that sector who share similar values with that brand, and to find a hook that sets it apart from other brands and will be intuitively recognise by the target audience. Put simply, the brand owner needs as many potential customers as possible to think “I ought to try that”.
The mission might be simple, but it has seldom been well executed and even when it has, the results have not always been successful. Groups might appear to be relatively predictable, but they are made up of individuals and individuals have a nasty habit of making up their own minds. The best executed, most successful brand building in recent times happens to be for a sparkling and that is, of course, Prosecco.
Prosecco achieved its success in the on-trade, specifically through the bar culture, targeting the female-dominated Pinot Grigio / Sauvignon Blanc lunch-time drinkers. This was a deliberate ploy borne of a degree of honesty that is rare in wine marketing these days. Prosecco’s brand builders did not pretend to be an alternative to Champagne and in particular the more “serious” end of the wine market. Instead, they sold Prosecco as a drink rather than a wine per se. They knew their product was built on the extreme freshness of its primary aromas. After all, it’s a wine that a few months before had whizzed in, around and out of a giant, shiny tin can in less time that it took its producers to say abracadabra or secondary fermentation. I jest a little, but the Prosecco industry knew that the very last consumers they wanted to engage with were the more experienced and more knowledgeable. This has proved so successful that not only has it overtaken Champagne with sales of 307 million bottles, but the price that Prosecco sells for is far higher than it would have been had it chosen a more conventional wine-trade route. The more experienced and more knowledgeable consumers that inhabit the more conventional wine world would have baulked at prices that are everyday fodder in the hip and heaving bars of a metropolis.
Franciacorta cannot follow in Prosecco’s wake. Few wines can. The problem with establishing the Franciacorta brand in any market is that its target audience is so similar to Champagne’s. The only solution is for a weakness in Champagne that might be a strength for Franciacorta, and use that as a Trojan Horse to sneak in the rest of the range. Eighteen months ago I would not know what weakness in Champagne might be Franciacorta’s strength, but now it is obvious: Brut Nature. Although Brut Nature has become ubiquitous in Champagne over recent years, Champagne’s climate is generally too cool for the style, consequently most examples are too lean and unforgiving in fruit. Only from certain vineyards in continentally-influenced vintages can a truly gifted winemaker craft a great Brut Nature, just as Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon has done with his Louis Roederer Philippe Starck 2006 Brut Nature, but such successes are as rare as hen’s teeth.
Franciacorta also has a cool climate, but its location is a tad sunnier and warmer, with an earlier harvest that reduces the diurnal difference of temperature. After spending a week in the region tasting exhaustively at the end of 2013, I was convinced that these little differences in the climate can and do make a big difference in the potential quality of the Brut Nature style. In terms of volume, there might be more great Franciacorta made in the Brut style than there is great Franciacorta Brut Nature, but after that trip, I was convinced that Brut Nature is the one style that Franciacorta is intrinsically better suited to than Champagne. This opinion was confirmed by the results of the first Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships, where it was not just my palate on the line, but Essi Avellan’s and Tony Jordan’s too, and the wines were all tasted blind, of course. Of the 11 Champagne Brut Nature cuvées entered, only one was successful and it won a Silver medal, whereas out of the 16 Franciacorta Brut Nature entered, three won Golds and four won Silvers.
Brut Nature makes a brilliant point of difference, as it also happens to resonate with modern tastes. If I was up to me, Brut Nature would be the flagship style I would use to mount a campaign in all major markets.