Tall poppy syndrome (a desire to cut high achievers down to size) hits all aspects of our lives, and Australians know this better than most. We are the country of the “little aussie battler“. Struth, we love an underdog. Our nation, built on convicts and drought didn’t invent the term (Wikipedia says Aristotle did), but we have just about made it our own, and have been instilling its values in the younger generation for at least 150 years. It’s no wonder then, that we find many Australian success stories trying to hide behind their fortune. This came home (again) to me, literally to my door, when wines for “The Label Project” started arriving on my front patio.
A timely reminder now I live in a place where labels are as important as money.
The idea behind the project is that we (140 blogging wine lovers over the world) were to taste the wine without the bias a label creates. Taste the wine without emotion, history or pretty pictures, and tell the company what we thought of it. If we guessed correctly, we might be a winner travelling to the winery. Nice. Unfortunately, the lack of branding caused us all to ask the same question – “Why does this wine need to eschew its label?” And that brings me back to the poppies. It had to be a tall one. Why else would they want us to ignore it? So, in the act of leaving the label off, they led us straight back to the place they wanted us to avoid – we suspected commercial, viable, successful Australian wine labels.
That first whiff of super clean chardonnay, tight oak and funky bready yeast was a total giveaway. I picked it straight off. I haven’t bought, or even drunk a Jacobs Creek Reserve Chardonnay at least since I’ve left Australia, probably longer. But it’s not a testament to my palate (well, not entirely) – you see, Jacob’s Creek have a signature style – it’s why they sell so much wine. Like Champagne, it’s one of those wines that delivers year after year. Sure, there’s a little vintage variation, but compared to smaller operations, they can blend and source towards a pinnacle – what the wine should, and always will, be. They get it, time after time. Jacobs Creek make very good wine, and not only that, its faultlessly consistent. I am a complete and utter wine snob, and yet I can admit this. Still, I don’t tend to buy it. Why IS that?
Because it’s a tall poppy, and I’ve always been a fan of pretty weeds.
But moving to Dubai and spending quite a few of my holidays in France over the last few years has begun to change my outlook on labels. I’m more than an arms length from the struggling/successful stereotype adoration, and the charming kitchness and rare quirks are faded behind all the shiny pretty branded things around me. I’ve had time to digest a few labels of my own. Both countries – UAE and France – breed tall poppies, and nither is ashamed or (very) jealous of them.
In France, once it has acheived merit, a label becomes a national icon. Think Chanel, Bordeaux, Satre, Camambert. The citizens stand by the label, applaud it, support it, treasure it. It doesn’t matter if your Louis Vuitton luggage is 35 years old and has nicks and scrapes all over it – it’s still Louis Vuitton. If they kept on trimming their poppies, they would have to get another suitcase. Second best will not be tolerated, it is best to go without if you can’t afford it. It’s a marvelous thing for the economy – it ensures their brands are always sought after, always in vogue. Sure, there’s a little identity theft in other parts of the world, but you know what they say about the sincerest form of flattery…
In Dubai, it’s hard for anyone to see the sky for all the tall poppies. Being a tall poppy is just as important as wearing, eating, driving or knowing one. But here, there’s a greater selection. No labels are national symbols, there’s no loyalty except to the dictators of style. Our poppies in Dubai aren’t gilded and preserved the way the French poppies are, but they last just as long as necessary – just until another poppy starts climbing above the previous one’s face. The issue becomes cost. But here, there’s a stack of other flowers in the field of poppies, and they are almost the same, just cheaper, and maybe a bit shabbier in places. The main issue is to make sure you are walking around with a bunch of fresh, long stemmed red flowers at all times.
|THE Jacobs Creek (image company’s own)|
Thinking on it further though, Jacobs Creek is also an Aussie Battler. Finding myself in this sea of Prada, Lamborghini, Veuve Cliquot and Gary Rhodes restaurants has helped me to realise this. All of a sudden, $10 bottles of wines that are consistent, flavoursome and quite good seem like quiet acheivers. I mean sure, they sell over 50 million litres of wine (that’s nothing – Concha Y Toro sell over 250 million), but when it costs $10 billion to build a tower, and I’m surrounded by ladies who have more than one bag that costs more than $1000 in their collection, I start to get proud of my home-grown family start-up business that still supports local farmers and the environment – even if the brand is now owned by the French (Pernod Ricard).
The last generation of winemakers have also been doing their darndest to bring Jacobs Creek up to a higher level of vinosity – with Reserves, single vineyard releases and Limited Editions in special vintages. It’s paying off with some stunning wine, even the experts will attest to it (Jancis Robinson speaks here) It’s unfortunate though in marketing terms that if wasn’t done the other way around – it’s much easier to sell a $500 Rolex than a $50 can of Coke, if you get my drift (except maybe here in Dubai). That’s why they’re doing projects like this – attempting to bring people back to the essence of the wine. Forget the fact it’s Jacobs Creek – is the wine good? Is it as good as the other more expensive, boutique wines on the market? Better even? Does it have good varietal character, clever winemaking, interesting allover character? Hell yes.
Well, they’ve led the horse to water – let’s see what happens next.
Reviews of the Jacobs Creek Reserve Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon on my new “wine reviews” page here. The page is a little bare at present, but I’m only two weeks in – give me time…
Oh, and by the way, I won. I’m going back to the Barossa in March! Woo hoo!