New Tractor

There have been a couple of important and necessary purchases here at Chollet this winter – both of which will improve efficiency, speed, and the overall quality of work done in the vineyard – which ultimately will benefit the wine, as ever the most important thing.

The main acquisition is a new tractor – well, new to us anyway – as our old Renault, which has served us well, is fading fast and refuses to start unless it’s in a good mood. Those of you who know dairy farms will be familiar with the semi-retirement of tractors to become ‘yard scrapers’, and in a similar vein our old Renault will still be good for mowing and generally dragging stuff around in trailers.

The ‘new’ one is actually a second hand New Holland which has not been used much so feels pretty new. Resisting the temptation to dive into technical details, suffice it to say there are a bunch more features, for example air conditioning (saves boiling half to death in the summer, or freezing in the winter) including special filters (saves breathing in masses of dust), more power, 4-wheel drive, wipers that work, a radio (wow!), and many more bits and bobs that allow easier and quicker connection of the various tools we use here. Oh yes, and it starts when you turn the key which is quite the novelty.

tractor    p1070130

                                          Hello to and goodbye (well, not quite goodbye).

The New Holland is the blue one, and the baby is now nearly big enough to drive it himself!

Speaking of tools, being an organic farm, we have a fair collection of them we use for weedkilling, in order to avoid the use of chemicals (in France the ubiquitous roundup, or Glyphosate, is used on a huge scale and is controversial due to its toxicity to people and animals, and long term damage to the environment – search “Glyphosate ban Europe” to find out more).

One such tool allows us to turn over the soil in between the vines which creates a long mound of soil a few inches high, thus masking the weeds and stopping their growth for a few weeks. To do this we have been using a rather clumsy blade which flops the soil over in quite large clumps, which in turn is harder to reverse (the soil needs turning back over of course, or we end up with an ever-growing pile of soil). We now have this neat new disk which breaks the soil as it turns it over, keeping it nice and soft. I know this may not be the most exciting news to many of you, but just remember the use of these various disks and blades means we use none of the aforementioned chemical weedkiller.

weeding-disk   weeding-disk-in-action

Common Wine Faults

We try to get ideas for newsletter features from the questions we are asked most often during wine tastings, and one such question is ‘what is corked wine’? Starting with that and moving on to another of the common faults, oxidation, here is a short guide. Whole textbooks have been written about these faults, so not everything is covered here – if you are interested in wine tasting and/or doing your WSET wine qualifications, and therefore need to know about wine faults, there is plenty out there for you to digest – drop us a line if you want to know more.

On a more basic level, understanding a little about faults and what causes them often helps people send back a faulty wine in a restaurant, for example, when maybe previously they would not have been sure and persevered anyway. Remember – life is too short to drink faulty wine!

1. Cork taint (aka corked wine)

In the vast majority of cases, it is the cork that causes this fault, but it’s not ‘bits of floating cork’ (although that can be annoying). The culprit is in fact a chemical compound called TCA (2, 4, 6 trichloro-anisole for those interested) which finds its way into the cork, either by the use of chlorine for bleaching corks, or from the tree (the cork oak, quercus suber) itself taking up pesticide residues from the soil, which then react with natural fungi. Other causes of cork taint are treated wood in wine storage areas (beams, walls or barrels), or simply a mould forming around an ill-fitting cork.

Human sensitivity to TCA is high (we can detect one billionth of a gram per litre), which partly explains why it is the most common fault we come across. Developments in cork hygiene and sterilisation have helped a lot, but the problem is still there, with maybe 1 in 40 bottles affected, although estimates vary a lot.

Normally it is quite easy to detect a corked wine; the first things that hits you is a mouldy smell reminiscent of a damp cellar (at least that is how I picture it), followed by a dry taste that lacks fruit and length. Of course, it is not always that obvious, but for me if the smell is even slightly mouldy, the taste is dry, and the fruit has gone missing, I’d consider it corked. In less obvious cases, my rule of thumb is that of you have to try really hard to find fruit and pleasure in the wine, both smell and taste, it’s likely to be a faulty wine.

2. Oxidation

Oxidation is a more complex. Generally speaking, wine needs oxygen, but not too much, and only at the right times. However, for fortified wines like sherry, Banyuls, Madeira etc, high levels of oxidisation are desirable. For this short guide we’ll stick to standard dry wines and define oxidation as ‘an excess of oxygen’.


Oxidation can occur from the moment the grapes are picked right through to storage of the wine in bottle, and for a variety of reasons, but with one common factor; the wine quality is permanently affected. If the oxidation occurs early in the winemaking, it is often not detectable until much later, so the only answer from the winemaker’s point of view is diligence at all times.

In the case of white wine, starting with the harvest, it is vital that only healthy grapes are picked, preferably by hand. Then, the grapes should be gently pressed and transferred into the fermentation tank as soon as possible, at cool temperatures. Finally, during the period between harvest and the start of the fermentation (about 48 hrs, normally) the juice should be protected from oxygen by use of an inert gas such as carbon dioxide, or dry ice. During the fermentation the wine is protected by the natural production of carbon dioxide, but after fermentation and before bottling, there is always a risk any time the wine is moved, say from one tank to another, or tank into barrel. At this stage the wine should be warmed slightly as oxygen dissolves into wine at a higher rate when the wine is colder. Thereafter, storage tanks or barrels should be perfectly full, clean and airtight, allowing for a controlled dose of oxygen from time to time to prevent reduction (another fault, kind of the opposite of oxidation).

For red wine, the same basic rules apply, with more emphasis on the storage after fermentation as red wine normally spends a lot longer in tank or barrel before bottling, increasing the risks of a slow oxidation. Particular attention should be paid during the few weeks before a bottling, when temperature, sulphite levels, and cleanliness of material such as pumps and pipes have to be rigorously maintained as the wine is moved around in preparation.

Furthermore, growing conditions even before harvest can have an effect; if the vines are stressed during the growing season (say in a drought year), they may not contain enough natural compounds that protect from oxidation later. Higher-yielding clones of certain grape varieties may also lack these compounds (called phenolics), so vine quality is a factor.

After bottling, a poor quality cork can allow oxygen in, despite any efforts made in the vineyard and winemaking. This is the responsibility of the winemaker and their cork supplier, to ensure the corks are good enough. Here at Chollet, for the white and rosé we use nomacorc ‘green line’ recyclable corks which are pretty much guaranteed problem-free, and for the reds we use good quality 49mm real corks, again to minimise any potential issues.

nomacorc      corks

Nomacorc                                                                   Decent, blemish-free corks are important

Whatever the cause, an oxidised wine tends to lose its clarity, and sometimes go cloudy. The colour takes on a brownish tinge, smell slightly of rotten fruit (oxidised apples, for example) and taste flat, burnt, or nutty.

Both of these faults can affect both red, white and rosé wines, but it’s white wines that suffer the most, with more delicate flavours. For example, for a number of years many Burgundy white wines suffered from premature oxidation, even top end ones. The causes are still being debated, although it’s likely to be a combination of all the above, plus the fact that Burgundy white is aged in barrel for longer than most other whites. Things are a lot better now, but oxidation can never be controlled 100%. So, remember – if you believe a wine is corked or oxidised, it probably is – and don’t be scared to return it.

Happy tasting! (the 99% of wines which are perfect, anyhow!)


Oxidised wine (picture credit; the excellent Wine Folly)

2017 Blanc Sec Exceptionnel

Appellation: Sainte-Foy Cotes de Bordeaux  – 13.5%

Blend: 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Semillon

Average vine age: 35 years

Harvest size and plantation density: 35 hl / ha and 5,000 vines / ha

Terroir: Soil is clay / sand over limestone. Location slightly elevated (80m above sea level) on gentle south facing slopes

Vineyard methodology: certified organic (ECOCERT)

Winemaking: Grapes hand harvested and pressed on 31st August followed by fermentation in stainless steel with discreet use of oak and regular batonnage for 3 months. Reduced sulphur.

Maturation: 5 months in stainless steel tank before bottling.

Tasting notes: Clean, crisp and fresh with aromas of tropical fruit and citrus. On the palate, the wine is fruity, smooth, and vivacious, with a long clean finish.

Serve with: Fish, shell fish, white meat, pasta, hard cheese.

Ideal time to drink: between 2018 and 2020.

Serving temperature:  8 to 12°C.

2017-blanc-sec-exceptionnel       pouring-white-wine

2015 Classique

Appellation: Sainte-Foy Bordeaux  – 13%

Blend: 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon

Average vine age: 30 years

Harvest size and plantation density: 35 hl / ha and 4,500 vines / ha

Terroir: Soil is clay / sand over limestone. Location slightly elevated (80m above sea level) on gentle south facing slopes

Vineyard methodology: certified organic (ECOCERT)

Winemaking: cold maceration for several days followed by fermentation in stainless steel at a temperature of 25-30 °C. Reduced sulphur

Maturation: 9 months is stainless steel tank before bottling

Tasting notes: A rich, deep colour, is bright and fresh on the nose with black cherry and raspberry aromas, alongside hints of warm spice. Rich, round and fruity on the palate, with ripe tannins, and a long finish

Serve with: tomato based pasta dishes, roasted vegetables, roast chicken, pork or barbecue

Ideal time to drink: between 2017 and 2022

Serving  temperature:  14 to 16°C

2015-classique red-wine-glass

Sparkling Winter Mixed Case

Back by popular demand, this year’s Christmas case includes 2 bottles of Decanter bronze medal winning Champagne from small organic producer Pierre Brigandat et Fils.  The Brigandat vineyard grow all their own grapes and farm organically on the south facing hillsides in the village of Channes, these are the southern-most vineyards in Champagne.

The Brut tradition is light yellow with a mature nose with creamy, lemony aromas and an almond note. A full palate with a refined texture the milky, lemony aromas reoccur, capped off with a sensation of crispness.

champagne-2        champagne

Perfect as an aperitif,  this Champagne also complements almost any kind of meal excluding heavy meat dishes and desserts.  Fortunately we have just the thing to pair with your Christmas pudding – a bottle (50cl) of our 2015 Sweet!

This 100% sauvignon blanc sweet wine has a rich golden colour. On the nose, the first impression is citrus followed by honey and caramel. On the palate, an unctuous sweetness is balanced by a fresh acidity, followed by flavours of honey, apricot and caramel. A long smooth finish follows. Perfect for a rich dessert or mature hard or soft cheese.

img_2153  home-wines

With only 134 bottles made they have all been bottled, corked, labelled and capsuled by hand so please forgive us for any wonky labels or creased capsules!  Also due to the tiny quantities the wine is only available in this mixed case.  Please see below for the feature from Paul about how we grow, pick and make this unique style of wine.

The Christmas case is £175 for 12 bottles and includes:

2 x Champagne Brut Tradition    :    3 x 2012 Prestige   :    3 x 2014 Classique   :   2 x 2015 Blanc Sec Exceptionnel  :  1 x 2016 Rose   :   1 x 2015 Sweet

(if you would like more than 2 bottles of the champagne, please visit our stockist Carte du Vin at

Making Sweet Wine

To coincide with the release of our 2015 “Le Sweet”, we’ve put together a guide to how sweet wine is made.

The basic idea is to increase the sugar concentration in the grape juice, such that as the wine ferments, some of the sugar, but not all, turns to alcohol. The residual sugar then gives the wine its sweetness. For example; in a dry white wine, the grapes are picked when the amount of sugar, measured as potential alcohol, is about 12 – 13%. All that sugar turns to alcohol, so the result is a wine at 12 – 13% with no left-over sugar. In other words, dry.

For a sweet wine, however, the sugar needs to be at a level of between 15 – 25% potential alcohol, so when our 13% is turned to alcohol, there is enough sugar left to give the required sweetness.

How this concentration is obtained varies. Here are the most common types of sweet wine;

  • Ice wine, where the grapes are left to freeze on the vine, which concentrates the juice. The grapes are often pressed whilst frozen. This is common in Canada, and some colder parts of Europe and China. Difficult to make, and is of high quality and high price, normally.
  • Fortifying the wine, which is simply adding sugar to dry white. This can be made anywhere, and tends to be for the cheaper wines – it adds sweetness but no complexity or character.
  • Raisin wine, where the grapes are left to dry and shrivel, concentrating the sugar content. This method originated in Roman times, and nowadays in Italy is known as Vin Santo. It can also be found in the Jura region of France where it is known as Vin de Paille, named after the straw mats used for drying the grapes.
  • Noble rot wines, where the grapes are left to over ripen on the vine, and the changing weather conditions in the Autumn cause rot to develop – just the right combination of sun and damp and you get the precious noble rot, which reduces the water content and adds complex flavours, such as apricot and honey. Too wet, however, and the grapes just rot away, so location is very important – best would be a South facing hillside overlooking a river or stream. The world’s most famous sweet wines are noble rot, for example Sauternes (just down the road from us here at Chollet), Tokaji in Hungary, and German Trockenbeerenauslese (try saying that after a few glasses).

Here at Chollet, being positioned in between Sauternes and Monbazillac, another good ‘noble rot’ zone, we have the right climate and South facing slopes, so we use this method.

As well as relying on the weather, the vines need to be handled differently during the season, notably early ‘leaf pulling’ to allow the grape to better prepare for the longer ripening required. Typically, we would pick our white grapes for dry white in the first or second week of September, and for sweet a month later – sometimes even the beginning of November if the weather allows.

For the harvest of sweet wine grapes, the key is selection, as not every grape will be good. Often, several harvests will be required – first pass in October when the first noble rot develops, then a second and third pass over the following couple of weeks. Yields are also tiny, as there is that much less juice and not all the grapes are used.

See the pictures below to show how semillon grapes develop in that crucial period;


The above grapes are ready to pick for dry white in early-mid September. No rot as that is not desirable for dry wine which needs around 12.5% of potential alcohol with good freshness and acidity.

semillon-to-sweet         noble-rot

The picture on the left shows noble rot developing on some grapes, normally around early October. These grapes are good for sweet wine, but could either be left on the vine for a few more days, or picked now for the juice content and acidity. In that case, we would return later for the more concentrated grapes, as in the second picture, which shows noble rot developing on all grapes – now is the time to pick as these may disappear altogether if left out there, in particular if it rains.  As many bunches as possible like this is great for sweet wine.

Below, nicely rotten grapes with added wildlife!


Once the grapes are picked, they need pressing. For that, we use a basket press, which gently squeezes out the precious sweet juice. It looks awful at this stage, a murky brown colour, but quickly settles once in the tank, at which point it is run off (separated from the heavier stuff we do not want) and put in the tank or barrel for fermentation.


For a sweet wine, fermentation is often problematic due to complex sugar polymers released by the noble rot which do not always react correctly with the yeast. To counter this, the juice needs to be at just the right clarity and temperature, and some yeast is also added. Once fermentation is going, it is important to monitor it as these same substances can lead to a build-up of volatile acids later on, and we also need to stop the fermentation at the correct point (when the right amount of sugar has converted to alcohol), either by quickly cooling the wine, the addition of sulphites or filtering out the yeast.

All in all, sweet wine is expensive and tricky to make, but an interesting challenge for a winemaker. If you do buy any of our “Le Sweet”, whilst you sip you can think of those lovely rotten grapes!

Down at the Vineyard – December 2017

Chai Refurbishment

We’ve got some exciting plans for our chai in 2018.  We are taking the opportunity of the tanks being empty (due to low yields in 2017) to do some refurbishments, this will involve taking all the tanks, barrels and other equipment out.   We are installing air conditioning so we can more easily maintain the temperature at a constant 18 degrees.  Stability of temperature through the summer highs and winter lows will help us to more efficiently make and keep the wine, for example, after picking, the grapes and juice need to be cool when the outside temperatures can still be up in the 30’s, and then later the juice needs to be between 18-20 degrees for the malolactic fermentation by which time the outside temperatures can drop to below 0.

To ensure the air conditioning is as efficient as possible we will be adding extra insulation to the roof, pointing the walls (they will need sand blasting first – hence the need to get everything out!) and replacing the doors.  We’re aiming to get all this done in March, so visitors in the summer season can look forward to a nice cool wine tasting environment!


In wine news, the 2017 white has finished its fermentation.  It will now settle over the winter (natural cold stablisation), be fined, if necessary using an organic, vegan friendly product,  and then be bottled on 2nd February.  The 2017 reds have finished their malolactic fermentations and been blended – we have the classique which is a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc and a small amount of prestige which is a blend of merlot and cabernet franc and will mature in french oak barrels.

Out in the vineyard we have weeded, ploughed and sown a green fertiliser.  Ploughing is essential to the health of the vineyard, it decompacts the soil allowing air and water in so the microbial life in the soil can flourish.  In vineyards in particular it also cuts up any side roots, which forces the main tap root to go down seeking water and nutrients.   This year we have used broadbeans and black oats as fertiliser, the broadbeans replenish the nitrogen and the roots of the black oats break up the soil, these will be mown and then ploughed in in the spring after the broadbeans have flowered.

img_2215    img_e2218

                       Ploughing                                 Broadbeans and black oats 

Whilst ploughing I was delighted to be followed by a flock of what I think are Cattle Egret (yellow bill and black legs), who stopped over on their way south for a good feed on the worms and bugs which had been turned up.

 img_2182    img_2191

                                                       Cattle Egret

The next job is the pruning, followed by the removal of the pruned stems, tightening up of the wires and replacement of broken posts before tieing the cane (next years growth stem) to the bottom wire – this all needs to be completed before mid March when the buds start to swell.

We have a couple of vineyard projects for 2018 : we will be adding an additional wire to one of the parcels of merlot to give additional support to the young shoots, and we will be planting a new area of semillon.

Making White Wine

After the second-earliest white harvest in our 11 years here at Chollet (31st August, beaten only the precocious 2011 vintage which started on 28th August), we thought you may be interested in knowing a bit more about how we make our white.

Firstly, though, given the early start, a quick word on harvest dates, which have followed a similar pattern in all areas of France (and globally) for many years, that is the harvest is coming earlier and earlier. Further to the long-term trends shown below, it seems to us, and many others, that this has accelerated over the last 10 years.

The two graphs below will tell their own story – firstly a view of the evolution of harvest dates in several different regions in France, followed by a specific view of Château Haut Brion, a famous Bordeaux vineyard from the Pessac-Léognan area.




There are various reasons for this pattern, including more detailed vineyard management, scientific farming practices, and a better understanding of grape ripeness, but it’s hard to argue against the theory that global warming is playing the major role. The debate around global warming and its effect on farming and, in our case, wine, is not for the pages of this newsletter – many in depth studies have been done and are ongoing, and we’ll pick up in the subject again in the future.

Back to making the white wine. Compared to red wine, making white is a simpler process, however this is balanced by the fact that is easier to upset the more delicate flavours in white through rough handling, or less than perfect general health of the grapes on the vine.

The principles are easy enough; as ever, the most important is to grow a healthy, ripe crop; then, use careful judgement of the correct time to harvest (if the weather has not already made the decision for you); careful handling (hand harvesting) and pressing (new, gentle, pneumatic presses are the best); judicious use of oak, cool fermentation and lees work; stabilisation over winter then finally, a fairly early bottling. See below for a bit more detail;

  • Healthy crop: this is the result of months of work, starting way back with the pruning in the winter which sets the vine up to grow a certain number of grape-producing shoots (about 10), continuing with all the vineyard work in Spring and Summer, along with lots of crossing of fingers during spells of bad weather (eg: in 2017 the rare Spring frost, which only had a small impact on the white grapes which are higher up the slopes. The reds, however, are further down and reduced by half compared to the normal crop).
  • Harvest time: a combination of sugar, acidity, PH value, phenolic maturity (the complex molecules that affects the taste) and more prosaic matters like availability of pickers and the weather.
  • Careful handling: in order to preserve the delicate aromas and flavours of white wine, it is important to not damage the grapes during the harvest. To do this, we pick by hand, then load the grapes via a conveyor belt into a modern, pneumatic press that is gentle and presses over a period of 2 – 3 hours.
  • Use of oak: an interesting subject in white wine. The aim for us is not to make the wine taste of oak, but just to add a bit of roundness. This is done by fermenting the wine with oak, not ageing it in any way in oak.
  • Working with the lees: the lees are the residue of the fermentation, comprising mainly yeast cells, which have broken down during the fermentation into sugars and amino acids. When stirred back into the wine, these compounds give a certain ‘weight’ to the wine, and a slightly creamier texture.
  • After all the above is done, normally we are about the beginning of December. The wine then sits over the winter and naturally will drop to around 5 deg C, which enables a natural precipitation of tartrates (a process known as called cold stabilisation), thus avoiding the addition of a chemical product or use of an ion exchanger.
  • Bottling: typically we bottle our wine in February, which allows enough time to get the wine in stock for Easter, when people (optimistically) get their warm weather wine ordered!


                                             sauvignon blanc ready for picking

conveyor      press

Conveyor to transport grapes without damage                            Pneumatic press – good for gentle pressing                                                                                                                            

Down at the vineyard – autumn 2017

Harvest time is always exciting at the vineyard, and with the whites safely in the tank we have already started thinking about the reds.  Th e forecast for the merlot is mid September and about 10 days later for the cabernet, again this is going to be about 2 weeks earlier than last year.  We use a machine to pick the reds, they don’t require such gentle handling as the whites and with larger quantities it is logistically easier for us.  The real bonus is that we can leave the grapes to the very last minute to get them as ripe as possible.  We’ll be using out neighbours super duper new harvest machine, which now has integral cleaning and de-stemming so the grapes arrive in the chai in optimum condition.

debourbage-white     yeast-white    harvest-machine

                 Debourbage                                                           Yeast                                                         Harvest Machine

Now we are harvesting we are finally in a position to fully assess the frost damage.  The white was largely unaffected.  Of the reds, we have two parcelles of merlot, the first parcelle by the house and the pool (for those of you that have visited) is about 15% damaged at the lower end of the last 5 rows.  The other parcelle of merlot (by the lane and facing our neighbours house) is about 80% damaged and we are as yet unsure of the ripeness of the grapes, we need to wait another week or so before testing to see if it worth picking at all and if it is we will probably do it by hand to ensure we get only the ripe grapes.  The cabernet franc (by the drive) has about 20% damage and the cabernet sauvignon about 30% – for the two cabernets we will manually remove the unripe grapes before picking with the harvest machine.

Apart from the harvest is it fairly quiet in the vineyard at this time of year – the ground is as yet too hard to start preparing for next year and the grapes need leaving alone to finishing ripening.

The 2017 white has already started fermenting and we need to test the density and temperature every day to monitor the progression of the fermentation.  Also in the chai we need to get the big red wine tanks clean and disinfected and check the rest of the harvest equipment is clean and in proper working order.

We also have a bottling on 22nd September of the 2015 Prestige, so still plenty to do!!

A Word from LME CBE – A label review

Many of you will remember that when we started out at Chollet, 10 years ago, the vineyard had not been making its own wine for many years, but was selling all its grapes to the local co-operative.  We always wanted to make our own wine, so that wasn’t an option for us.  But it meant that we had to do everything (and buy everything!) associated with wine making from scratch.

One of the most important things we had to do was to design our label.  Being a marketing man (or having been one, once) we did this by researching amongst our ‘target customers’ – many of you may remember this, because we had Mike Barlow, of Mi Creative, design 10 labels, all of a different nature, after careful study of different forms of labels, and ‘market tested them’ by e mailing them to everyone on our family and work contact lists to ask them to rate them.  We tried labels from the traditional to the contemporary.  (One was called ‘Fat Bird’ – not a sexist/sizest joke, but an acknowledgement of the success, believe it or not, of ‘Fat Bastard’ wines in the US and in Europe, and the fact that a fat pigeon (a ‘palombe’) is an emblem of our area in France and we have a ceramic ‘Fat Bird’ perched on the top of our tower.

‘Fat Bird’ didn’t make it through to the next stage, which was to ask a focus group (inevitably, and with better results than Mrs May’s, carried out by Kim and Teresa from B different, who Mrs May should have asked to do hers……….) to discuss the four labels which scored best and choose a ‘winner’ from them.  The clear view, as you can see from our label, was actually really quite obvious – if what people are looking for, when they buy wine, is classic Bordeaux, then when they open the case on arrival, it ought to look like classic Bordeaux. Hardly a shock, but the fact that we sell most of our wine directly to peoples’ homes, through specialist merchants, independent restaurants, or ‘at the Chai door’ means that there is not the need to try to catch the eye on a supermarket shelf.

We did do one or two things deemed ‘radical’ in Bordeaux, like putting the grape varieties on the labels (revolutionary!) and adding an informative ‘back label’ with details of the harvest, alcohol content, tasting notes etc.

90 x 120  Our existing label

So that is where we were, and still are.  It seems to have worked.  But 10 years in, is it still the right call?  To help us judge this, around 80 ‘friends of Chollet’ got together to try some of our latest wines at the Royal Over Seas League in St James’s, earlier in the year.  By way of a task, they had to go round the room and give a score to each of a dozen alternative label designs on display.  The labels were a selection from the specialist French printers who we use, of what they thought were the best of the latest designs they had been asked to print.

You can see the labels displayed below.  Numbered 1 -12.  We asked everyone to rate then from 1-10 and also to give a rating to our existing label. Not a process I would submit to the Royal Statistical Society, but the result was clear enough.  Of the ‘new’ designs, only two scored an average of over 6/10 – Number 8 (which scored highest with 6.2), and Number 5. Both quite traditional.

no-1  no-2

                                                        No.1                                                                                                      No.2


no-3       no-4

No.3                                                                                         No.4

no-5  no-6

                                         No.5                                                                                                     No.6

no-7  no-8

                                                    No.7                                                                                                     No.8


no-9     no-10

                           No.9                                                                No.10






By contrast, our label scored an average of not far off 8.  Of course, one has to account for a bias, everyone there being familiar with the label as it stands.  But there doesn’t seem to be a great reason to rush to radical change.

So over the winter, Kirstie and Paul will mull over the findings and think what, if anything, to do next.  The best brands – think of BP, Mars, Cadburys, Coca Cola – may evolve a bit over the years, but are still immediately recognisable from their first evocation.  So a bit of updating might be right – or maybe we could borrow something from one of the high scorers, for a ‘special cuvée’ one day.

Watch this space – or, rather, watch this label! If you have any views, we would be very happy to hear them.

Best wishes to you all, and thanks to Marie Williams (formerly Marie Belsham, whom many of you will know) for organising the evening and the analysis.  Marie is running her own ‘virtual PA’ and events management business now, so if anyone needs anything in that line……