29/11/2005 - 21:00

New era for Houghton classic

29/11/2005 - 21:00

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It was out with the old and in with the new during November as Houghton Wines made two important decisions about its future.

New era for Houghton classic

It was out with the old and in with the new during November as Houghton Wines made two important decisions about its future.

On the one hand David Woods, CEO of parent wine company Hardy Wines, and Houghton senior winemaker Rob Bowen were on hand to officially open the winery’s new cellar door facility.

On the other, Houghton’s White Classic was announced as the new name of Houghton’s White Burgundy.

Both events will prove pivotal for Houghton’s viability in the coming decades of growth for the Western Australian wine business.

Having decided to expand its base of operations in the Swan Valley, Houghton unveiled its $1 million cellar door facility on November 20.

A dramatic increase in visitor numbers forced Houghton to revamp its existing resource, making this new work the biggest growth in more than two decades.

Houghton’s new cellar door opened about two months after its Swan Valley neighbour, Sandalford, finished a similarly grandiose upgrade of its Swan Valley facility. (As Gusto reported in October, in a direct move to capture a corporate market now increasingly enamoured with the Swan Valley, Sandalford recently finished construction of a 300-seat underground cellar.)

So there was perhaps in no better place than its gleaming new facilities for Houghton to introduce the wine community to the new Houghton’s White Classic.

Houghton’s hand was forced as far back as 1994, when a trade agreement between Australia and the European Community was signed. The Trade in Wine, and Protocol Agreement committed this country to respect French Geographic Indications regarded as sacred to the French wine industry.

From that moment, notice was served on all producers using names such as ‘Burgundy’. According to the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, other names also on the hit list include chablis, Champagne, claret, graves, marsala, moselle and sauternes.

Wine Industry Association of Western Australia CEO Sue Vidovich says it is only a matter of time until names such as port and sherry disappear from Australian wine labels and vernacular.

“The rebranding is much better for the consumer,” Mrs Vidovich told Gusto. “By removing these names and replacing them with generic terms, the consumer knows exactly what they are getting in the bottle.”

The EU/Australian Wine Agreement had aimed to set phase-out dates by Dcember 31 1997, but these timeframes failed to materialise.

Houghton had already made the decision to phase out of the use of ‘White Burgundy’ at the end of 1997, however.

Australian wine makers have been slowly removing French words and place names from local wines ever since the term ‘sparkling wine’ was introduced. Brown Brothers famously rebranded its high-volume moselle with the name ‘crouchon riesling’, but only after selling a vintage with both labels on the bottle.

Similarly Seppelt slowly removed all mention of ‘port’ from its products.

So the Houghton example is not the first rebranding of French GIs, but it is one of the most high profile. And the choice of the new name is not without controversy – but it is hard to imagine a perfect fit for a wine at the centre of so many people’s first wine experiences.

Houghton’s White Burgundy, or HWB as its is often known, was born of the genius of WA wine industry legend Jack Mann. It has been produced in this state for almost 70 years and is an  icon among Australian wines.

At this year’s Swan Valley Wine Awards, Jack Mann’s son, Dorham, paid tribute to the white wine blend created by his father. It was modelled on the refreshing white wines of Burgundy from which it took its name, Mr Mann says, and he is proud of the wine and all it has come to represent.

Both Mr Mann and Houghton senior winemaker Rob Bowen insist that, apart from the label, nothing has changed for the company’s most popular product.

But the choice of name has been criticised as unrepresentative of an icon such as the HWB. It has been suggested that the name ‘classic’ is anything but when it comes to wine labels.

Whatever one’s opinion on the subject, it seems ironic that the renaming of a wine such as this would seem so controversial when wine retailers routinely say its purchasers instinctively look for the familiar label without even reading the words.

The 2005 Houghton’s White Classic will be available nationally with the 2006 vintage in June next year.

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