It was an advert for a cleaning product that ‘kills 99% of all known living germs’ that led former drinks inventor David Gluckman to come up with the idea of Red Chardonnay. He asked himself what happens to the other 1% ? Because, if wine law stipulates that only 75% of a wine has to be Chardonnay to be called Chardonnay then what about the other 25% ? So Gluckman decided to add 25% of a red wine to Chardonnay and call it Red Chardonnay. The year was 2001 and (unbelievably) this actually happened. Read on to find out what came next.
“I even found some justification for the idea. It would be a red wine intended to be serve chilled. And it would be good with strong fish like tuna and swordfish. You need to give a product a strong ‘reason why’,” writes Gluckman.
I was always intrigued by the ad for the product that claimed ‘to kill 99% of all known germs’. That missing 1% arrested the attention and made the claim more believable. Well, they weren’t claiming to be perfect. Just nearly perfect. OK so the 100thgerm could be the one to kill you. But the odds were better.
Then a time came around when I could put the ‘100thgerm’ idea to work. A rather dull piece of information about wine regulations appeared on my laptop. This is what it said:
‘For bottles labelled as varietal, at least 75% of the wine therein must be of that varietal’. The word ‘therein’ shows it comes from a dull legislative document.
But hang on. ‘The 100thgerm Principle’ drifted into my head and I thought “What about the other 25%? That’s a lot.”
At the time, Chardonnay was the most popular varietal around. Sauvignon Blanc hadn’t yet taken over. Malbec wasn’t in sight. What I took from the legislation is that you could add any wine to 75% white Chardonnay. So how about a red wine? Its colour would dominate so we could have Red Chardonnay. And it would be legal.
When it comes to ideas, I’ve always gone after them full throttle. As soon as the notion of Red Chardonnay emerged, I had to do it. I wanted to make it real. Immediately.
I asked a designer friend to mock up a bottle using a wine brand the company (Diageo) owned called BV. He did this on his computer in an hour. I then presented the idea in the form of a magazine article. This was a technique I often used. It was meant to look like a (fairly) objective assessment of the idea by a neutral observer.
I even found some justification for the idea. It would be a red wine intended to be serve chilled. And it would be good with strong fish like tuna and swordfish. You need to give a product a strong ‘reason why’.
Then I needed a product. I resorted to a technique I had used in the past. I got hold of some red food colouring and added it to an accessibly-priced Chardonnay bought in a local supermarket. I did a couple of focus groups amongst people who bought Chardonnay and it went down pretty well. People understood what it was, saw the point of it and liked my ‘Heath Robinson’ product.
I passed it on to the people who ran the wine businesses in California. There were two ideas on the table: one, we would get as close as possible to White Chardonnay, but we’d make it red. So we’d be transferring a familiar wine flavour. And two, we’d go for an innovative new blend of Chardonnay and something else.
I think the winemakers in Napa were pretty snooty about it. They didn’t fall off their chairs with excitement.
In my business, on most occasions when you hand an idea over your involvement stops. So 18 months passed before I noticed that something had actually happened. Two Red Chardonnay brands appeared, one for BV and the other for Sterling Vineyards. They were both blends of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and were titled ‘Chardonnay Noir’.
I was sent two bottles and I tasted the BV version but there wasn’t any Chardonnay flavour that I noticed. It was just another red wine. I kept the Sterling version as a souvenir.
As far as I know, the Red Chardonnay music has died. I haven’t seen any sign of it on the internet. The idea happened in about 2001 and maybe the wine business had proliferated by then. Loads of brands lots of flavours. Red Chardonnay may have got lost in the crowd.
I still love the thought. And maybe ‘Gluckman’s 100thGerm Principle’ will find its way into some learned book on business or marketing.
My not-so-erudite-but-very-entertaining book on ideas and the drinks business can be previewed and ordered on www.thatshitwillneversell.com