Is Fumé Passé?
Campaign aims to revamp Fumé Blanc's uncool image
The winery has been producing Fumé Blanc since its first vintage in 1972, and it remains one of Dry Creek Vineyard's best-selling wines. Today, the winery produces about 35,000 cases per year, including the limited-production, single-vineyard DCV3 and Taylor's Vineyard wines.
Dry Creek Vineyard founder David Stare recalls that the term--originally coined by Robert Mondavi in 1968 as another name for Sauvignon Blanc--provided a helpful marketing boost in those early years, when Sauvignon Blanc sales were stagnant.
During the past several years, however, the family began hearing comments that a name change to Sauvignon Blanc would be appropriate, given the worldwide acceptance of the varietal. With this in mind, the winery surveyed members of the trade, wine club members and the general public. According to Dry Creek Vineyard vice president Kim Stare Wallace, the survey showed that "For almost everyone, Dry Creek Vineyard and Fumé Blanc are synonymous." Rather than changing the wine's name, the winery decided to change the public's perception of it through a series of promotional campaigns.
Beginning in May and lasting for the remainder of 2008, the "What is Fumé?" campaign will include a month-long promotion at the winery, featuring educational tastings and food pairings, and a vertical Fumé tasting for the media. "What Is Fumé?" brochures, case cards and shelftalkers were created to help with distributor promotions during the summer months.
According to Dry Creek Vineyard communications director Bill Smart, the Fumé name has fallen out of fashion--especially among younger adults. "To them, I think the term is passé or uncool," he told Wines & Vines. "Part of the reason we are conducting this campaign is to bring Fumé Blanc back to life."
Though the name is not nearly as popular as it was in the '70s and '80s, several wineries still label their Sauvignon Blanc wines as Fumé Blanc, including Robert Mondavi Winery, Grgich Hills Estate, Castoro Cellars, Chateau St. Jean , Ferrari-Carano and Lolonis Winery.
However, most continue to do so for the sake of tradition, rather than marketing value. Mike Grgich, who worked for Robert Mondavi when Mondavi coined the Fumé Blanc term, decided to label his Grgich Hills Sauvignon Blanc as Fumé in 1979 as a gesture of respect. The wine still bears the name today.
"Ivo Jeramaz, our vice president of vineyards and production, doesn't feel there is a real marketing advantage for us using Fumé Blanc today," said Ken Morris, Grgich Hills' communications and marketing manager. "It's more about Mike's connection to Robert Mondavi and remaining consistent with what we call our wine."
Does Fumé equal oaked?
When searching for a distinction between Fumé Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, many people point to oak, believing that "fumé" refers to the smoky character imparted to the wine through barrels. However, according to the "What is Fumé?" website, the name is actually a reference to the Loire Valley's thick morning fog and Pouilly Fumé wines made there from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Dry Creek Vineyard ferments its Fumé Blanc wines in stainless steel.
"We are trying to dispel the notion that because a wine is called Fumé Blanc, it must be oaked," Smart said. "This is not true, and there are no regulations that support it. There are plenty of SBs that are oaked and unoaked, and there are Fumé Blancs that are oaked and unoaked as well."
Robert Mondavi's Mia Malm confirmed that Fumé Blanc is not, in fact, defined by oak influence. "Fumé blanc by itself doesn't mean that it's oaked or it's unoaked--I think that's the big misconception that consumers may have," she said. Mondavi's Napa Valley Fumé Blanc is barrel fermented in neutral oak barrels that don't impart any discernable oak flavor to the wine.
The Fumé Blanc name "still has relevance" for Robert Mondavi Winery, Malm said, "but I agree that there can still be consumer confusion about what it means."
In the end, Smart hopes that Dry Creek Vineyard's efforts will convey the message that Fumé Blanc is simply another name for dry Sauvignon Blanc.
"We hope the campaign will end the stigma associated with Fumé Blanc once and for all," Smart said. "It is Sauvignon Blanc."