Sunday 23 December 2012

O:TU - a combination of wine excellence and marketing discipline

The PR office of O:TU Wine has been trying to organising a tasting between me and their winemaker Jan Kux on and off for a year, and we finally met just a few weeks ago. At first, I thought Jan was just another high-flying businessman turned winemaker who preferred to spend more time in Europe and therefore had to use a PR office to organise his meetings. Our conversation changed my impression.

Yes, winemaking was a second thought for Jan—he studied law and languages originally before deciding to switch to winemaking. Since then, he has accumulated over 20 years experience working in wineries in Germany, Alsace and Bordeaux, to name a few. Apart from running O:TU, he is also a consultant to several wineries in Europe.

A jet-setter he may be, but Jan is certainly not pretentious. Otuwhero Estates, the former O:TU, went into receivership in 2008 and the new owners went to Jan seeking help reviving the business. Apart from making the wine, he is also hands on with the selling and marketing side. While he respects terroir—we did talk about the different kind of soils in the 200ha vineyard—he believes even more in communicating with customers. The packaging has to strike a chord with the target audience and at the same time reflect the wine.

The result is a bold yet understated label, a combination of classic European and modern styling. Jan makes three Sauvignon Blancs, each with a defined market. O:TU Sauvignon Blanc, with vibrant green lettering on the label, is created with the young woman in mind, light and refreshing with a touch of residual sugar, while the more complex blend:102 with riper fruit and warmer-toned packaging is aimed at the more experienced consumer. The latest blend: 202, still in barrel at the moment, is a robust, food-friendly wine and no doubt will have a label to match.

But O:TU is about more than labels. A striking label may help sell a wine once, but if you want repeat purchases it needs quality to back it up. O:TU certainly has the typical Marlborough tropical fruit aromas, but all the wines are aged on fine lees until bottling, giving that extra mouthfeel and complexity to subdue the pungency and add a touch of Old World character.

Some wine professionals dismiss packaging, averring that consumers should judge a wine solely by its content. However, with thousands of brands around, having both the label and the quality can give the edge. Jan’s winemaking philosophy is about beauty, art, culture and appreciation of nature combined with a scientific approach. I couldn't agree more with this.

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