Meritage Madness

I swore it wouldn't happen. I crossed my heart, hoped to die, stuck a needle in my eye…………………………….

But, somehow it did.  Despite my attempt to get off all industry boards some years ago, I'm back on — and in a big way. But now it's for an organization that is very much a part our winery's red wine philosophy. Let me introduce you to the new Chairman of the Meritage Association.  (It sounds like a big honor, but truth be told, there just weren't any other suckers willing to step up!)

So, try as I might, I just couldn't say no.

If you're new to the term, Meritage is the name used for categorizing hand-crafted blends made from traditional grape varieties grown in Bordeaux, France. If it's a red wine (which most are) that means the wine is comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot or Malbec. For a white wine, the blend must include Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Vert, but these are few and far between. Most are red wine blends. 

A group of vintners selected the name 20 years ago in an attempt to give a distinctive classification to this category of wines. Was it necessary? You bet, as the TTB (formerly known as the BATF or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) requires wines that are less than 75% of any given variety, be named simply, TABLE WINE. Not the most glamorous or descriptive of terms, particularly considering some of the world's finest wines are blends of the traditional Bordeaux grape varieties. And, they do not necessarily adhere to the 75% rule.

Now, we're regrouping and trying to come up with a new plan for the next 20 years.  How can we reach out to new wine lovers? How can we best serve our winery members, who make and sell Meritage wines? And what, if anything, should we do to promote these incredibly complex wines that represent a winery's most creative and artistic form of winemaking? With over 200 winery members in six different countries, it's time to rethink our mission and redirect our efforts. The art of blending is here to stay, and Meritage wines are at the forefront of this movement.

If any of you have a suggestion, I'd LOVE to hear. I promise to pass it on to the Chairman!

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| | Comments (8)


Jack said:
August 1, 2008 10:56 PM

Perhaps you might simply consider dropping the Meritage term. Why? Because I don't think wines labeled Meritage have a positive reputation. Why pour money into that? That would be Meritage Madness, right?

(And, let us not forget the most consumers mispronounce meritage.)

I think it's smarter for each winery to come up with a proprietary name for their Bordeaux Blend, and list the exact blend on the front or back of the label.

But hey, don't listen to me - commission a poll and see for yourself.

Keith L. said:
August 2, 2008 8:20 AM

Yes, I think at this point "Meritage" has connotations just as down-market as "Table Wine." You would never see it on a wine like Dominus or Monte Bello, for example.

Lyle Fass said:
August 2, 2008 8:35 AM

Meritage is to California wine like Red Bicyclette is to French wine.

Alder Yarrow said:
August 2, 2008 3:05 PM

Last time I had a wine labeled Meritage that was any good was 1997.

Kim (aka Wilma) Author Profile Page said:
August 3, 2008 9:14 AM

I may just have to challenge you on that last one Alder! Our 2004 Mariner is awesome...have you had it?

Thank for commenting everyone. Clearly the Chairman has her work cut out for her! Based on your comments, it seems like the Meritage category suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Many, if not most, wineries do choose to use a proprietary name, just like we have with our Mariner. And we list the varietal percentages on the back label. But, when these wines are sold in stores or on wine lists, if there wasn't a "Meritage" category or heading, where would they be listed? They shouldn't be listed under the Cabernets, and they're different than other blends made from Rhone varietals, etc. So, don't you think it helps overall to have the Meritage classification as a designation for these blends?

Karen said:
August 4, 2008 11:58 AM

As an average consumer of wine, I never knew that Meritage was considered "down market". I appreciate seeing that label on wine lists as it cues us to look at creative, interesting options. We know which varietals may be in it and that helps us too to know what kind of tastes to anticipate. And I believe I have enjoyed many delicious wines called Meritage. If it was a proprietary name, it could be any varietals and so it takes more reading of labels to know if we want to order it. Since most wine lists do not contain much information, it might be tedious to ask to bring several bottles of wine to the table so we can read labels. Meritage does mean something. If that name is gone, how will the industry help with other words that might appear on restaurant lists and be descriptive enough? And please do not say to ask the sommolier. As knowledgeable as they are, they are not at all restaurants--even really nice ones--and they do not always pick what I like. I want to be able to pick for myself.

Marco Montez said:
August 5, 2008 11:24 AM

I agree that Meritage really hasn't reached the recognition that its members probably want/expect. I have personally never been to a restaurant here in the Northeast that lists Meritage as a separate category on the wine list. Neither has ever a retailer at a wine store recommended to me a Meritage. In my opinion, convincing restaurants and retailers that they NEED to have a Meritage category offering would be a great accomplishment. This may require a focused effort from a marketing and sales perspective. Does the organization hold consumer tastings like for example the “PS I love you” group does? And obviously… by now a case or at least a few bottles of the best Meritage should be in the mail on its way to bloggers like Alder.

JohnLopresti Author Profile Page said:
August 8, 2008 5:11 PM

The membership roster at the meritage association website reveals a lot. Wilma should have fun adding a new dynamic to advancing recognition of the meaning of the title as a global designation of perfect blending. Bordeaux wines accomplished some subgradations by mandating labels specifying somewhat forthcomingly whether the bottling was at the same estate on which the fruit grew, whether the crop was recognized preharvest as extraordinary quality based on standardized rating of the year's weather, soil and pest conditions, and fruit sample assays. In sum, a lot of things some members of a global organization promoting a new name like meritage will try by both political methods and industry influence to skew. What a challenge to lead a new organization with such a creative idea in a very stratified industry, encompassing some parts of the world which can raise own-rooted vines, or apply more pesticides than in other nations, or permits dilution with water of musts, or sugaring with non vinifera sugars.

At a recent street fair a locally bottler with a local vineyard had donated tastings from bottles of out-of-region blends of the most undistinctive sort, but the overarching label recently won a competition with some products in its reserve cuvee with totally different sourcing. The street tasting featured sub$5./bottle product; the tasting winner price was $60./bottle; same winery, deceptively similar labels.

Meritage can compete against that kind of chicanery and advance quality grades of meritage wines globally if the meritage organization permits itself some ways to express by label and perhaps by gradated events and tastings, the differentiated quality products available labeled meritage. It looks like a lot of work, but holds great promise. I can understand why they turned to Wilma for help.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Kim published on July 31, 2008 2:25 PM.

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