Not much has changed for Old World wine naming. Most serious, top-tier wine-makers – especially in countries like France with long wine-making histories – continue to derive names from the family name of the winemaker, a château or domain, or some clear reference to the wine itself. But in countries newer to winemaking, like the United States, Australia, South Africa, and Chile, the approach to wine naming has become unbuttoned – or should I say, uncorked?
New World winemakers have traditionally named wines based on the grape varietals used in the wine’s production. But these days, they reference everything from animals to pop culture to curse words.
Two factors drive this trend of New World wine names
Casual wine drinkers – a good many of them Millennials – dominate today’s wine-buying market. This generation brings their own visual and linguistic aesthetic to the table – and it is markedly different than the Old World preference for subdued names and images of grape motifs, chateaux, or vineyards.
Secondly, the sheer volume of wines and wineries launched each year forces wine brands to find new ways to stand out in a sea of sameness. Seventy-one percent of U.S. wine shoppers say labels play a role in their decision-making.
Although there are few quantitative studies on a name’s impact on a wine purchasing decision, we think it’s safe to conjecture that given their prominence on the label, names also play a powerful role in influencing purchases.
Creating names that pique curiosity isn’t easy. Naming of any kind, even in less-crowded space, involves a lot of steps. For starters, you need to understand an industry’s naming conventions.
Creating a taxonomy – the science of naming things in groups – is a great way to familiarize yourself with naming patterns and trends. This knowledge can help you avoid adding another moniker to an already overpopulated group or, even better, inspire you to pioneer a whole new category.
That’s why we set out to create a New World wine taxonomy. It took an exhaustive review of the wine market but with time, patience, and yes, a glass or two, we found that most New World names fall into one of eight categories.
This is a massive space, so of course, not every name fits neatly into a category. But this deep dive certainly reveals trends in New World naming. Understanding these patterns can help winemakers and their marketing partners as they start the naming processes.
For everyone else, a taxonomy of wine names is great fodder for a dinner party conversation.
The character of a wine is intimately connected with its terroir – the blend of factors including soil, climate, and sunlight that gives wine grapes their unique character. Thus, it is no surprise that this naming path is well-trodden.
Names in this group reference hills and dales, streams, creeks, bays and other natural formations. Many vineyard and wine names fall into this group, among them Cloudy Bay, Bloomer’s Creek, and Restless River.
Some names are beautiful, like the assonant-rich Sonoma Coast, or powerful, like Pride Mountain Vineyards. Others are edgy and strange, like Ghost Tree Wine or Ghost Pines. There are also names that refer to the earth itself, like the Australian wine, Yalumba, a mellifluous, indigenous word that loosely translates as “all the land around.”
Flower aromas – iris, lavender, rose, and more – are prevalent in wine. It is not surprising, then, that New World wine naming is a veritable bouquet of flower-inspired names.
Beyond names that reference individual flowers, many monikers use “flower” and “garden” as part of the name. For starters, there is Straight-Up Flowers, a vineyard on the Sonoma Coast, and Bella’s Garden, a Shiraz from Two Hands Wines.
The lovely Fleur de Mer, a name which means “flower of the sea” is found here, along with the dirt-under-the-nails name, Urban Forage Winery. Vine-inspired names – like VeganVine and FitVine – fall into this group, too, and are an especially popular naming convention for eco-health-conscious wines.
If you’ll allow us to state the obvious; wines pair well with food. Thus, many wine names reference flavors, cuisine, and the communal act of breaking bread.
In this category are a number of cakes – Cakebread Cellars (part of Two Creeks Vineyard, a nice example of category #1), Layer Cake, and Cupcake Vineyards – along with general references to food and eating – FOODIES, Pepperjack, Plat du Jour, Jam Jar, and Saumon.
For those looking for a bottle to slip into a wicker basket, Sachem’s Picnic or Varner’s Upper Picnic Block work just fine. Fruity wines like Caposaldo Sparkling Peach, and dry wines like Bread & Butter, have a home here, too.
Wine best-seller lists suggest New World wine drinkers have more in common than a love of libations – a fondness for animals. An outsized number of popular brands reference wild and domestic creatures, some of which might inhabit a vineyard’s ecosystem, and others most definitely not.
These names come in all shapes, sizes, and constructions, from stand-alone animal names like Whippet, a sleek and social dog breed, to animals in motion, like Flying Goat, Goats Do Roam (is this a play on “Côtes du Rhône” or a reference to the vineyard’s wandering billies?), and a whole host of critters making the leap – Stag’s Leap, Frog’s Leap, and Leaping Lizards.
Birds in action fare well, too, like Screaming Eagle and Smoking Loons. Oh, and elks are also popular. See Elk Cove, Elk Run, Elk Creek, and Elk Mountain.
Another trend is animals as possessive nouns, à la Bull’s Blood, Pheasant’s Tears, Eagles’ Nest, and The Squid’s Fist. Some of these are more appealing than others but, of course, shock value is a tactic.
And then there is the animal plus adjective combo: Bored Doe, Arrogant Frog, and Funky Llama. Adding a bit of color never hurts either. The ever-popular, Yellow Tail, is proof of concept. Black Swan, Black Pig, and Red Rooster claim spots on the spectrum as well.
From all this, it’s reasonable to deduce that wine naming is a real menagerie. And yes, Menagerie is a wine name, too!
For centuries, poets, writers, and artists have sung praise songs to wine. It goes the other way, too. A good number of New World wines have plucked names directly, or indirectly, from the names of artists or their creations.
For example, Lenore, a deep, full-bodied wine, is named for the lost love of the narrator of Poe’s “The Raven.”
Realm Cellars’ name comes from Shakespeare’s Richard II; “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm.”
Quixote Winery pays homage to Cervantes’ knight errant.
And then there is the tongue-in-cheek, If You See Kay, a line harvested from James Joyce’s Ulysses (and a not-so-secret way of saying “F-U-C-K”).
In better taste, there is Nine Suns Winery, a reference to an ancient Chinese folktale.
Literary terms or tools, like Ex Libris (meaning “from the library”), Inkwell, and Chapter & Verse fit nicely in this category, as do J Bookwater Wine’s Subplot, Foreshadow, and Protagonist.
Ovid Wineries, itself a reference to the classic Latin writer, brings us Hexameter, the meter he used in his sprawling narrative poem, Metamorphoses.
And naturally, the curtain rises on musically-inspired names, from well-known Italian terms to less-common ones like Duende – a term inspired by El Duende, an elf-like creature who pops up in the lore of the Iberian Peninsula. As a descriptive term, “duende” describes the intense physical or emotional reaction that results from the experience of an unusually soulful artistic work, especially musical art forms such as Flamenco.
In the visual arts, we find names like Carmen Frida Kahlo, named for the Mexican painter; Helvetica, a tribute to the ever-popular font; and The Expressionist, named for the modernist art and literary movement of the early twentieth century.
“Outré” is a French word that means to cross over the bounds of what is seen as usual or proper – something unconventional and bizarre. The names in this group are just that.
This is the abode of the “bastards”; Fat Bastard, Mad Bastard, and Utter Bastard. Their counterpart, “bitches,” comes with varying attitudes: Happy Bitch, Sassy Bitch, Sweet Bitch, Feisty Bitch, and Old Bitch (not to be confused with Old Fart).
Tongue-in-cheek names like the millennial staples, White Girl and Oops are ubiquitous, and like many names in this group, speak more to the casual wine drinker than the sommelier. Lewd references to anatomical features also live here, among them Big Pecker, Broke Ass, and Ball Busters.
Less rude names can be outré, too. Some elicit fear or danger, like Running with Scissors, The Prisoner, and Sand Trap. Others dabble in darker arts – think 7 Deadly Zins, Moon Curser, and Blasted Church. And if “You Want It Darker” (thank you Leonard Cohen!), how about Blood of Grapes or Eleventh Nail in My Cranium?
This category features objects or images that evoke something – a mood, a place, or a scene. It includes names like Seaglass Wine Company, an ode to the smooth, water-shaped bits of glass that sparkle on the shore.
The Beachhouse and Barefoot Wine also evoke summer’s languid days, as does Wölffer Estate’s Summer in a Bottle, especially when combined with the bottle’s flowing imagery which is meant to mimic the “come-and-go of the tides.”
Little Black Dress (LBD) suggests a sexy night on the town, and also something essential. Green Truck, on the other hand, drives the imagination straight to the farm, as does Tractor L’Oranj.
Names like Meteorite Wine, Lightning Strike, and Shooting Star call up brilliant action in night skies. And then there is a whole passel of names that evoke mysterious places like Dreaming Tree, Hidden Sea, and Freestone Quarter Moon.
Other colorful images come from repurposing industry terms. In example, the handcrafted wine, Toasted Head, is named for the “traditional practice of toasting barrel heads and staves to impart a mellow, toasted flavor to barrel-aged wines.”
Barrel and cask-inspired names abound in this group too.
This category overlaps with others, chiefly, Evocative Image and Outré, but the use of phrases and idioms is so widespread it warrants its own category. Once again, these names feel designed to speak to younger, or less serious, wine drinkers. You can so picture someone giving his or her sibling a bottle of Sibling Rivalry!
For the avid traveler in your life, there is Boarding Pass. While Lonely Spirit may do at a table for one. And Small Talk should elicit smiles at your boss’s holiday party. The list of names like this goes on: Return of the Living Red, Nagging Doubt, Help is Here, and Educated Guess, to share just a few.
As seen from above, New World wine names run the gamut, from the merry to the macabre, the clever to crass, the elegant to the idiotic. And while there is always room in the cellar for more categories, we were surprised to see just how many found homes within the eight above.
Now, a caveat.
First, it goes without saying that a name, label, or package design, no matter how brilliant, won’t ultimately save a lackluster wine. However, a strong name can add a note or a bit of sparkle to a great one.
For this reason, those charged with New World wine naming should avoid the temptation of slapping a random name on the bottle. Names created without imaginative rigor may enjoy a brief moment in the sun, but they will not age well.