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Aug 30, 2010

Montana wines as we know them will soon disappear from the shelves - in name only.

RIP Montana. In the coming months one of country's iconic wine names will disappear. Its fans needn't feel bereft though, as it has merely been renamed and will resurface as Brancott Estate, in a bold move by its owners, Pernod Ricard NZ who are all too aware of how a name can help or hinder even the most successful of brands.

Many will mourn the loss of the Montana name, which has graced bottles since the 1940s. However, as the Spanish word for mountain and an American state, it never really communicated its Kiwi roots.

This might not be such a big deal at home, but is far more important overseas. It's already known as Brancott Estate in the US and this move forms part of the brand's "new assault on key export markets".

Naming the label after the company's key Marlborough estate, makes much more sense. "Brancott Vineyard is not only the home of Montana's flagship Marlborough sauvignon blanc, it is our original Marlborough vineyard and where sauvignon blanc was first planted in Marlborough," explains Pernod Ricard New Zealand's Managing Director, Fabian Partigliani. "The provenance and authenticity Brancott Estate provides, supported by the history, heritage and industry leadership of Montana, offers a brand name with great future potential and this change was a logical choice when we were evaluating our global brand strategy."

For those who find it hard to let go, the name will remain on the Montana Classics range here in New Zealand, which will now sport both names.

What a wine is called can undoubtedly help bring it success or cause it to struggle. A bad choice puts people off picking up a bottle; a boring or generic name is easy to forget; while a distinctive one that connects with the story behind the wine can help it sell.

Despite this, many wines' names remain rather unmemorable. Given the importance of provenance in wine it's understandable that many brands choose to embrace the natural features of the place from where they come. However, it's all too easy for a river to run into a bay and hills merge with mountains in the mind of the wine drinker.

To counter this, some wineries, mostly working within lower price brackets, have gone for more attention-grabbing names, with varying degrees of success. I have to say Somona's Horse's Ass Chardonnay backfires for me, French Vin de Table, Frog's Piss and our own Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush fail to get me salivating, while the Californian Cleavage Creek is in pretty poor taste.

Nevertheless, some wines have won over consumers with their wacky names. One example is the French label, Fat Bastard, the terminology allegedly used by its winemaker to describe the contents of a particularly rich barrel of wine, which ended up sticking as the label's name.

Some have used light-hearted labels to distance themselves from the snobbery that can be associated with wine, such as the likes of Old Git and Old Tart which are popular in Britain, and the humorously self-depreciating Arrogant Frog which is starting to gain popularity here.

Okay, many of these more extreme monikers are plain gimmicky and most are simply not suited to the kind of premium wines we make in this country. However, some wineries have managed to create more imaginative identities for their wines, such as Astrolabe, which connects with its region, through its allusion to the ship sailed by French explorer Dumont D'Urville through the Marlborough Sounds, while suggesting the spirit of discovery.

Brancott Estate may not be that striking a name, but if Montana had been reincarnated as something like Puking Pukeko, then I'd be grieving.