On a recent trip to the fish counter at Whole Foods, I absentmindedly looked over at a large display of white wine across the aisle. Then, turning my attention back to the fish, I did a double take.
Wait -- was that wine really called Little Penguin?
Indeed it was, and next to it was a display of wine called Smoking Loon, whatever that means. A few days later a friend happened to ask me about "that wine with the almost offensive name" referring to the popular French chardonnay Fat Bastard. What's going on, she asked?
So I began paying attention to some of the wine bottles popping up around the area with eye-catching, funky labels to complement their funny names: Goats do Roam ( a play on Cote du Rhone), Love My Goat, Three Thieves, Tin Roof, Jest Red and others.
What's going on, it turns out, is a creative effort by a small but increasingly visible group of winemakers to make wine less intimidating and more popular, especially with the twenties crowd.
But what started as an innovative and amusing marketing gimmick has taken off in a much bigger way because of particularly favorable business conditions in the winemaking industry. Now it's an industry trend, with major wineries introducing their own quirky brands to compete with new labels that are catchier, simpler, more affordable and pronounceable than your average Châeauneuf-du-Pape, and of surprisingly high quality.
In short, these funky new wines are flying out of stores.
"These are some of our best-selling products," said Marc Jonna, national wine buyer for Whole Foods Markets. And now Jonna, too, is changing the way he buys wines.
"I've been in the business over 20 years -- I would say now packaging is about 10 percent of my decision making," Jonna said. "Before I never thought about it."
A catchy package, whether it's the design of the label, the quirkiness of the name, or both, has clearly struck the industry as an important way to nurture a future generation of wine buyers. Young adults, who are increasingly interested in purchasing wine, are outspoken about not wanting a complicated French or German name they'll never remember or pronounce, much less spell, to their friends.