Wine, Wine Thoughts

Burgundy Was Branding Itself Before Branding Was a Thing

Picture Burgundy in the 1700’s. The French revolution was happening, existing systems were being upended, public figures were being overthrown, lots of change happening everywhere. It doesn’t seem that different from now, actually.

But in some ways it was a totally different time from today. The world of personal brands and social media and content being king was so far from the thoughts of those French peasants. After all there was another king they were worrying about.

And yet, even then, those old Burgundians knew the value of hitching your star to something special.

They saw what they liked and they went for it

There is a long history of great wine in Burgundy, much longer than I originally thought. Winemaking in the region dates as far back as Roman times (!!), and they’ve been obsessed with terroir since at least the 11th century (the 1000s, for those playing the home game). That’s when the Cistercian order of monks set up shop and discovered that different vineyards (or clos, in Burgundian lingo) each produced slightly different flavours in their wine.

Fast forward to the 1760s and winemaking traditions in the region were already well established. In fact, by that time many towns in the area were already known for making great wine, called vin de Bourgogne, and were well on their way to becoming famous for making their own specific terroir.

And then the coolest thing happened. Mayors of these towns took notice and thought “you know, I bet peeps would think my town was way cooler if they knew we were supes close to that awesome-sauce vineyard”, or, you know, however old-timey French mayors would have talked.

My point is, these mayors legally changed the names of their towns to include the names of grand cru vineyards that existed within their boundaries.

Who says branding is a new thing??

This guy totally changed the name of his town to get some French street cred.

But wait, there’s more

And it wasn’t just one town, a bunch did it! All of these villages have added bits to their names to align more closely with a famous wine nearby.

  • Chassagne-Montrachet
  • Puligny-Montrachet
  • Aloxe-Corton
  • Chambolle-Musigny
  • Gevrey-Chambertin
  • Puligny-Chambertin
  • Chassagne-Chambertin

They’ve got gumption

You know, I really admire the brazenness of renaming your entire community to match the name of the coolest thing you’ve got. Imagine if New York City changed its name to Yankee-ville, or if Palo Alto changed to Start-up City. The gumption! I love it.

Turns out that even in 1700’s France name recognition was a thing. Go figure!


How would you feel if your town changed its name to take advantage of something more famous?


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