A few weeks ago a sample arrived. I opened it up and thought, oh, the new vintage of Mud House Sauvignon. A few days later I picked the bottle up and looked closer. Rather than being the new vintage of this well known Marlborough Sauvignon brand, I saw it was from Chile. I’m sure I won’t be the only person who misses this important detail, at least at first.
There’s nothing completely novel about a wine brand well known in one country extending to take in another, although it tends to be big companies who go in for this. There’s Lindemans, who have branched out from Australia to Chile. And Penfolds are now making Californian wine.
But in this case, I think it’s a really daft idea. Marlborough Sauvignon is a powerful brand, and winemakers in the region have worked hard to build up brand equity in Sauvignon Blanc from their region, and by extension in the New Zealand Sauvignon brand. For New Zealand wine, Sauvignon is the dominant variety by far, and is a valuable asset. In the marketplace it commands a premium price, and New Zealand Wine Growers have invested a lot of money in research to find out why it is so distinctive, in a bid to maintain this competitive advantage.
Other countries have spotted an opportunity here. If they can emulate the New Zealand style, then perhaps they can make something that consumers will enjoy just as much, but at a slightly lower price. Because Kiwi Sauvignon has been a bit more expensive that competitors’ offerings, they can undercut it and still make money.
In 2021 Marlborough had a really good vintage in terms of quality, but they were short on quantity. It seems like the folks at Accolade (the large wine company that owns the Mud House brand) sat down, and some bright spark suggested making up this short-fall by buying some Chilean Sauvignon, bulk shipping it to their bottling plant in the UK, and then brand-extending Mud House to Chile. In the short-term, this may well make some money for them.
But it’s incredibly short-term in outlook, and I think it’s a poor decision. By doing this, one of Marlborough’s most identifiable brands is kingmaking Chilean Sauvignon. It’s saying, hey folks, this Chilean Sauvignon is just as good as the stuff in Marlborough, so we are putting our label on it. Our brand equity is precious, so we wouldn’t risk it if we didn’t think the wine was good enough.
I suspect there were a lot of shaking heads in New Zealand when this wine came out. Yes, in the past on the domestic market Pernod Ricard have used the Montana brand for cheap Australian Sauvignon – a perplexing decision, but at least they didn’t risk the New Zealand Sauvignon brand on export markets.
I tasted the wine. There’s another problem with it. They could have gone for a really good, laser-sharp Sauvignon from Leyda, San Antonio, or coastal Colchagua. Or even Casablanca. But instead it’s from the Central Valley, and it’s a bit clumsy and bitter. Overall, a hard-to-understand decision from a company who should know better. [I should add that if anyone from Accolade reads this and would like to disagree, I’m open to hearing from them.]
Mud House Chile Sauvignon Blanc 2021 Central Valley, Chile
£9 Asda, Morrisons, Majestic
Quite full in colour for a young wine, this has good acidity, but also quite full, pithy pear and melon fruit, with a touch of table grape. It’s a little bit musky and heavy, lacking real vitality. Finishes with some grapefruit pith and bitterness. 82/100