Luddite Wines – taking branding to the next level
07 September 2016
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This is Old Mutual Live Wine edition. Thanks for joining me, I’m Jenny Crwys-Williams. Joining me on the line is the winemaker and the owner of Luddite Wines, that’s Niels Verburg. Niels, thanks very much indeed for joining me.
Niels Verburg: Only a pleasure.
JCW: You are the talk of the town and when I went onto your website, I can see why. Because you’ve just won a Bronze Loerie for packaging and labelling for your Saboteur wines. Just tell us a little bit about this journey. Because I think that there are very few wines on the shelf that look anything like your marvellous new labels.
When rebranding works
NV: I must say I suppose we changed or we brought out a Saboteur white and the Saboteur red has been on the market for probably 6-7 years now and been very successful. Then when we brought the white out, we thought it’s time for a wholesale change.
The old label looks similar to the Luddite label, but we felt that we needed to do styles of wine so to speak. Not so much a brand, because it still falls under the umbrella of Luddite. But we wanted the two styles of wine to stand apart.
The Saboteur white blend and Saboteur red, we changed the packaging. Went seriously offbeat, as you can see, with the striking label. I think the beauty of that label is because of the tie-up with the Luddite. Essentially went around and sabotaged everything. So Saboteur was a natural progression.
I think the lovely story that there is behind Saboteur. In the sense that a shoe or a wooden shoe in those days is called a ‘sabor’ in French. The story goes that they basically jammed their wooden shoes into the cogs of the machines to break the machines. Therefore ‘sabor’, sabotage and then Saboteur being a person. It also links up with my Dutch heritage, sort of a wooden clog, I suppose.
JCW: I think it’s an absolutely lovely story. But what led you to it in the first place?
NV: Well, I felt that I’ve always wanted to bottle wine with a crown cap. Because that’s also the biggest radical change to the packaging. I’ve always wanted to use a crown cap. They age champagne for years on the lease for the primary fermentation with this crown cap. I’ve never been too sold on a screw cap. It’s also not fool-proof in the sense that if you dent the top of the screw cap, it breaks the seal.
I felt that a crown cap was a bit more bullet-proof, a bit sturdier. If we could get the right crown cap, which is sort of double thick aluminium with a decent liner inside. It would form probably as good, if not better closure than a screw cap. But the added bonus is that it doesn’t damage as easy.
Also to tie in with that whole industrial look of the Saboteur packaging. So it’s quite striking and it’s a lot of fun opening bottles like that. Because people are quite taken aback in the beginning when they’re not used to it. But it’s been so well received.
The first vintage of Saboteur white sold-out in three days. So it’s been quite bizarre and the uptake has been absolutely overwhelming. Funny, as we speak, I’m looking out my window and we’re busy labelling the 2016, the follow-up. There’s a little bit more, so I hope it lasts a little bit longer than three days.
But certainly as nice a wine, maybe even better. It’s a Chenin Sauvignon, we actually put Blanc vermy on the label because I’m not a big Sauvignon fan. So we put Blanc vermy. Then it’s a blend of Viognier with that and it’s been so well received and very excited with it.
The crown cap really is a head turner
JCW: Did you do publicity beforehand or was it just people walking past it and seeing it on the shelves?
NV: No, we did no publicity at all. We showed it at a lovely little wine walk around show called Tuning the Vine in the streets of Cape Town. We showed it on the Wednesday night and just the social media people putting it on Facebook and sending photos around gave it such a boost. Thursday/Friday on the farm, a lot of people came around.
It was just before Christmas and by Saturday you couldn’t get a bottle anymore. It was bizarre and then the red is obviously the yin/yang. In the sense that the packaging, the white with the black font and then the other way around, on the red. But we do offer the red obviously in crown as well, but not as much as the cork.
As an indicator, crown versus cork, I think it outsold almost out of the cellar door, which is the best gauge. The general public coming into the tasting room. It outsold the cork 5:1. So there’s definitely, people are keen for a change. They’re keen for an exciting closure and it is very striking.
You haul that out on a dinner table and grab a bottle opener and open it like a beer. It does get people’s attention, which is great fun. Maybe even at some stage we’ll start a little chat site by saying: How did you open your Saboteur today? Because obviously you could use any object to get the top off.
JCW: Including your teeth I presume!
NV: You only do that when you’re drunk and 18!
JCW: I think it’s an absolutely fabulous story and I love the blend. I haven’t tried it, as you know, because you were surrounded by so many people. But the label that goes around the neck, just explain that to me because it does stick out. It’s very unusual. I almost, when I was reading about it the first thing, thought: I wonder whether that actually is holding a bottle opener.
NV: Yes, it’s probably, maybe be a bit too gimmicky if we did it that way. But I really, I don’t know if you saw the primary packaging. So it gets wrapped in a white wrapper with very large Saboteur written on it. On that paper is also the same story that from the neck tag. Which is the whole fight of cause and rebel and don’t conform and the whole lot.
I must say, once you finish reading that, you sort of feel that you’re certainly very motivated. You almost want to grab a pitchfork and go and ride in the streets of Paris type of thing. It’s very well written and I must say, Whitespace that did the design on everything, they deserve all the accolades they get.
The Whitespace team are pretty special and Sean Harrison who pens most of that, I put a couple of my cents worth in there. Then also on the neck tag we had a bit of fun and also on the main label, instead of ‘released 2014’ or 2015 or 2016, we’ve put ‘un-leased’. So a little bit of fun as well.
Quality of the wine always comes first
But I think the thing that really carries the wine and the packaging is that there’s zero compromise on the quality of the wine inside. We had to make sure that the wine was beyond reproach from that point of view. If we’d put a Mickey Mouse wine with a crown closure; everybody would have just thought oh, it’s another gimmick type thing.
As far as we know, we are the first guys to put a top quality wine under a crown closure. The success and the uptake has shown that people are open to that sort of closure, which is great. I think it’s exciting, it’s only a short time ago. I think 12-years-ago where people looked at screw caps and said we’ll never buy a screw cap bottle. Now it’s sort of taken or granted. Maybe we start something new and it ends up being everybody under crown closure.
JCW: I’m just looking at your wine magazine rating, 93/100 scored, that’s pretty damn high.
NV: Good, I’m terrible, I don’t look at any ratings or anything. I’ve always said the best rating is the sold-out sign. That’s what we worry about, we don’t generally enter competitions. But it’s nice to hear if people have taken the wine and written about it off their own bat, we’ll obviously never say no to a nice write-up. So that’s good news that we got 93, that’s very nice.
JCW: I’ll read you the last sentence then, I won’t bore you with the rest. The last sentence says: ‘This is immaculately crafted stuff, whatever the name might imply’
NV: It sounds good, who wrote that?
JCW: I don’t know, it’s Wine Magazine, so go to Wine Magazine. It’s Christian Eedes, for him to say that –
NV: Is that on the white or the red?
JCW: That is on the white.
JCW: On the red: ‘The most accomplished vintage to date’ – how about that. Listen, you need to pay me if I’m going to read to you!
NV: We’re going to have to! I might have to send Christian a couple of bottles of wine.
A great relationship with our Ad agency
JCW: Let alone me! Christian is obviously wild about it. How did you marry yourself to the advertising agency, because obviously it’s a perfect match?
NV: Yes, our first label, the Luddite, we designed ourselves. Because obviously the Luddites were the band of rebels from the Industrial Revolution. We wanted the wine to look like it came from that era, almost cut out of a potato skin. To be bold and striking. Then we obviously added the personal touch of hand numbering every bottle.
Then when you faced with deciding on a new label and new packaging, you’ve got to bring in an expert. That’s why we partnered up with Whitespace and Sean and Tania. I know them socially as well, but being a tight Dutchman, I always like to do things myself. I’m always scared of bringing on these professional guys because they do charge, that’s for sure. I’m very happy that we did so, the freshness of the ideas and the striking packaging. It’s priceless, it’s been a great move.
JCW: Congratulations. I don’t know if you were at the Loerie’s when it was actually announced, but I’m sure you heard pretty soon afterwards.
NV: Yes, we did. I think the Loerie’s is definitely for the advertising guys. I think us winemakers must stay away from events like that rather. But it’s been great, we also won the Wine Label Award, or the only Gold Medal at the Wine Label Award at the beginning of the year. So the extra exposure and column space you get for that is also invaluable.
Me being a typical winemaker I always say: What’s inside the bottle is more important than getting awards. But it’s definitely been fantastic and certainly for Whitespace, the Loerie. I stand under correction, but I think it was the only wine label or wine packaging award that was given. So that’s a huge feather in their cap, without a doubt.
JCW: Well, congratulations to you, I look forward to drinking it. Niels Verburg, owner and winemaker and celebrating the success of his Luddite wines. We’re talking about the Saboteur White, the Luddite Saboteur White 2015, which is totally sold-out. That’s as good an advertisement as you can get. Niels, thank you so much.
NV: Thank you very much Jenny. You can tell your listeners that certainly the 2016 is being released this weekend at Bot River Spring Festival. So there is 2016 available now.
JCW: Okay, thanks so much.
NV: Great, thank you.
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