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Wine: Changing what's outside, and in

This label "scared the bejeezus out of the Japanese." (Adelsheim Vineyard)

Adelsheim Vineyard, one of Oregon's pioneering and most famous wineries, is known for its labels as well as its wines. Over 36 vintages, Adelsheim labels have featured a series of portraits of family members or friends. But now, as he celebrates four decades of winemaking, David Adelsheim is making a change.

He's not embarking lightly on this rebranding effort. "We approached this very gingerly because we do not want to lose customers," Adelsheim told me during a recent visit to Washington.

However, the old labels were causing some problems. "We found that certain labels scared the bejeezus out of the Japanese," he said. One in particular, used on the label of Adelsheim's flagship Willamette Valley pinot noir, featured a woman looking directly at the consumer. Japanese customers found direct eye contact with a wine label to be confrontational, he said.

Great Britain was another problem market. "There, the concern was that if it didn't look enough like a French label, the wine mustn't be very good," Adelsheim said with a sigh. "So the quandary was, how to allow our wines to thrive in two of the world's most important markets while branding ourselves so that people understand we are an upper-tier winery."

The winery is developing new labels, to be used starting next January, that will (Adelsheim hopes) both modernize the look and evoke the winery's tradition of quality.

New labels are not the only change at Adelsheim as the winery celebrates its milestone anniversary. A new fermentation facility for pinot noir allows Adelsheim's winemaking team to ferment small lots of grapes in separate tanks. This allows for greater flexibility in both picking the grapes and in blending the wines.

"We did 150 separate fermentations of pinot noir last year, which allowed us to pick when the grapes were ripe rather than when a tank was available," Adelsheim said. Grapes won't turn overripe on the vine waiting for last week's pickings to finish fermenting.

This new facility will not only give greater focus to the winery's single-vineyard pinot noir program, which I described in yesterday's column. It should also give the winemakers better control over the entire line of pinot noirs, lending greater consistency and quality to the product. Changes will be both in and on the bottle.

-- Dave McIntyre
(Follow me on Twitter.)

By The Food Section  |  June 17, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Wine  | Tags: Dave McIntyre, wine  
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