Unusual Wines
Diversity in Wine
Winery Names

Did you wonder how wines and wineries got their names? I give the story of some of the more unusual names, such as Fat Bastard, in the unusual labels pages but here is the tale behind some others.

The estate in South Africa's Cape, which dates back to 1704, gained that unusual name in 1806 after its owners returned from the long and arduous journey to Stellenbosch town. Cresting the last hill they saw ahead of them hostile bushmen had destroyed farm and burned their houseto the ground. They cried "Allesverloren" - meaning 'All is Lost'. With indomitable spirit they then went on to rebuild and restore the estate.
Since 1872, over five generations, it has been owned by the Malan family - one of whom, D F Malan, went on to become Prime Minister. They have increased its size to 136 hectares and are making wines of renown. Specializing in Port style wines as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, they were the first to make a varietal table wine from the Tinta Barocca grape usually seen only in Ports - which I think is a knockout. The present owner is Fanie Malan while his son, Danie, is the winemaker.
sources: Pamela Vandyke Price Wine. Lore Legends and Tradition

AMPHORA Rick Hutchinson spent 25 years making wine for others. When he crushed the first vintage for himself he chose the name Amphora, Greek for "the vine-bearer". One of Ricks passions is pottery and Amphorae were ancient Mediterranean clay wine containers. Amphora makes Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah varietals in Dry Creek, Sonoma County, California
source: .

My favourite Bordeaux chateau, the fifth growth Chateau Batailley in Pauillac, reflects in its name that the vines are planted on the site of an old battle between the French and English. Interestingly enough, now Batailley is also well known for it's English style gardens. Much later the estate was split into two, the second part taking the name Haut-Batailley.
source: Edmund Penning-Rowsell The Wines of Bordeaux.

Beaulieu Vineyards means 'beautiful place' and was named in 1899 by Fernande, wife of owner Georges de Latour.

Bulls Blood of Eger, or Egri Bikaver unusual name refers to the time in the 16th century when the town of Eger was besieged by an invading Turkish army. The defending soldiers fought back fiercely. So fiercely that when they were observed by the Turks drinking local red wine which stained their beards red the Turks assumed the ferocity was gained by drinking the blood of bulls.

Winery owner Jim Wyse is a supporter of efforts to save the endangered Burrowing Owl. The misnamed owls don't actually dig holes in the ground but occupy burrows abandoned by animals like badgers and gophers. Burrowing Owl Vineyards, in British Columbia's Okanagan valley, grows Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for red wines and Chardonnay and Pinot Gris for white.
source: .

Sonoma County's Carmenet Winery chose their name to reflect its Bordeaux inspiration. Carmenet is an archaic French term for the family of grape varieties used in traditional Bordeaux blends.
source: .

South Africa's Cathedral Cellar refers to KWV's huge cathedral sized cellar in Paarl.

Napa Valley's Cuvaison Winery was founded in 1969. Cuvaison is a French term for the fermentation of wine on its grape skins
source: .

The fifth growth Medoc Chateau d'Armailhacq gets its name from previous owners, the d'Armailhacq family. But it is unusual in undergoing several name changes in recent times. When Baron Philippe Rothschild bought the estate in 1933 he prefixed the name with Mouton, which is fair as the estates were one until the d'Armailhacq's bought part of the original Mouton vineyards.
In 1956 the name was changed to Mouton-Baron-Phillipe (to the relief of the non-French speaking world who found d'Armailhacq difficult to pronounce). 1977 saw its name changed to Mouton-Baronne-Phillipe in memory of Pauline de Rothschild who died in 1976. And in 1989 the name reverted to Chateau d'Armailhacq.
M. d'Armailhacq, a former magistrate, was awarded a medaille d'honneur in 1885 for his classic book on improving vineyard and winemaking practices in the Medoc.
sources: Cyril Ray Mouton-Rothschild and Edmund Penning-Rowsell The Wines of Bordeaux.

Trefethen Winery in California labels some of its wines under the name Eschol Ranch. The property was named in 1886 after a stream in the Old Testament (numbers 13:23) where men sent by Moses into the land of Canaan found a grapevine with a bunch to big for one man to carry , or as the Bible says "cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff".

In 1979 Gil Nickel purchased the abandoned ruins one of California's oldest wineries. During restoration the words Far Niente were found carved in stone on the front of a derelict building. Gil kept the name for his new venture. The Italian phrase "in dolce Far Niente" means "life without a care."

The name of Freemark Abbey in California has no connection with the church; its name dates from 1939 and is taken from the then owners names - Charles Freeman, Mark Foster and Albert Ahern whose nickname was Abbey.

The name Fume Blanc for a wine made from Sauvignon Blanc was the inspiration of Robert Mondavi. In the late 1960's California Sauvignon Blanc was an unpopular wine. However French Loire wines made from the same variety under the names Sancerre, Pouilly Fume and blanc fume were admired. Mondavi took a consignment of Sauvignon Blanc and made an experimental batch of light refined oak-aged wine. He Americanized blanc fume and called his wine Fume Blanc. The wine was a success and Mondavi formally introduced the wine in 1968. Fume Blanc continues to be one of Robert Mondavi's most popular wines.
source: Robert Mondavis autobiography Harvests of Joy.

World famous Australian wine Penfolds Grange Hermitage was first made in 1951. Grange was the stone cottage built in 1844, family home of winery founder Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold. Hermitage was an Australian name for the Shiraz grape, since dropped to placate EU objections to a French region's name on an Aussie wine.

California's Inglenook winery takes it name from the Scottish word for the cozy corner by the fire and refers to the way the original property nestled into the foothills.

Barry and Audrey Sterling searched for a winery site in Europe for seven years before returning to the US. In Sonoma County, California, they found the ideal location. It was once a railroad stop, and this inspired the winery name of Iron Horse. They make Methode Champenoise sparkling wines, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Fume Blanc and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend.

South Africa's Kanonkop (meaning cannon hill) refers to the farm's lookout hill where, when ships entering the bay were spotted, a cannon was fired to alert the farmers who would then load carts with produce and hurry to Cape Towns harbour to sell their fresh produce. Firstcomers received the best prices from the ships rounding the Cape.

The documented history of the top rated Chateau Latour goes back some 600 years. In the time when that area of France was part of the Kingdom of England a chain of fortified towers were built to deter sea pirates. The name refers to that ancient tower built on estate grounds, where the cellars now are. Later on the then owners used the tower as a base to extract payment from ships using the Gironde river. The original tower has long vanished, but records show it was square, unlike the more modern circular tower shown on the label of this most famous and expensive of wines.
source: Edmund Penning-Rowsell The Wines of Bordeaux.

California's Lokoya Vineyard chose its name to honour the native American tribe that, until the 19 century, had farmed Mt Veeder's slopes - now covered by its vines.

The second growth Chateau Montrose in St Estephe is named for the pinkish colour that covers the estate when its heather is in bloom.
source: Edmund Penning-Rowsell The Wines of Bordeaux.

The Rothschild family appended their name when they bought the ancient Bordeaux estate of Mouton, and in French un mouton means a male sheep. A rams head is used as the vineyard emblem but in fact the name is derived from mothon, a local dialect word which is a corruption of motte or mound. Motte is a frequent French place and family name.
source: Cyril Ray Mouton-Rothschild.

Opus One was originally going to be called Gemini until it was realised this was the name of the biggest gay paper in San Francisco. So Baron Phillipe de Rothshchild chose the Latin word Opus (meaning work and usually applied to art or a piece of music) and suggested Opus One implying it was the first product of a master composer.
source: Robert Mondavis autobiography Harvests of Joy.

The respected Medoc Chateau Palmer takes it's name from an Englishman, General Palmer who was stationed in Bordeaux in 1814 during the war against Napolean. He bought an old estate, then called Ch d'Gascq, renamed it and went about improving it so much that it was rated as a third growth in the famous 1855 classification. Unfortunately the estate ultimately swallowed up his fortune and he ended his days in poverty.
source:Edmund Penning-Rowsell The Wines of Bordeaux.

Joel Peterson, founder of California Zinfandel specialist Ravenswood was influenced in his choice of name by 1) some aggressive ravens that harrassed him while he was loading picked grape bunches onto a truck, and 2) the opera Lucia di Lammermor by Donizetti whose hero Lord Ravenswood drowns in quicksand. Joel thought "starting a small winery is sort of like drowning in quicksand."
source: Joel Peterson at

If the Shiraz grape grown in Australian was brought in from France, why is it called Shiraz, and not Syrah? It seems that Shiraz is the favoured term throughout the southern hemisphere. And is there any connection between the shiraz grape and the old Persian city of Shiraz?
I believe the answer comes down simply to the way words alter over time; it seems Syrah is the French pronunciation and Shiraz is the Australian pronunciation of the same root word. And that root word is probably a corruption of the ancient name for the old capital of Persia - Shiraz
It is likely James Busby brought the original from France in 1832 where it was planted in the Sydney Botanic Gardens and by the late 1840s it was documented as being 'An excellent grape' by Sir William Macarthur. However at that time the name was spelled as 'SCYRAS.'
Try pronouncing scyras in an Australian accent. Now try pronouncing it the way the French would do, never saying the last letters of a word. It got transmuted in Australia to Shiraz.
Now of course the French didn't put the grape variety on the label (still don't except in a few new southern French wineries) and they don't grow much Syrah and that is mostly along the Rhone Valley bottled under the name 'Hermitage' etc. In 1968 there was only about 6000 acres of Syrah in France.
And many Australian wines - like California - used old world names, so they used the name Hermitage for these wines made from Shiraz. I remember the world famous Penfolds Grange was until very recently labelled as Grange Hermitage - they dropped the Hermitage because of French complaints, i.e. they couldn't use that name in the E.U. Other Aussie wines quickly put the grape variety on the label and they grow a lot of Shiraz and make excellent wine - which other new world makers wanted to also make.
So Shiraz was on the label of these tremendous wines from Australia and thats the name used by other new world winemakers - because the customers were asking for Shiraz - few people knew the name Syrah ouside French winemakers and geeks like us!!
Not documented is the link with the ancient city Shiraz. But this area had some of the worlds earliest vineyards and some people argue the Phoenicians bought the vines to Marseilles. Greek amphorae have been found in Hermitage supporting this theory. Alternatively it could be the Roman legions who brought it, because it is known the vine was well established in the Rhone valley during the Roman occupation.
So to summarise

  1. New world winemakers use the Australian name because the Australians made such a success of Shiraz and made the name prominent.
  2. Both names are different pronunciations changed over time from the same root
  3. Vines have to some from somewhere and there is circumstancial evidence to say Shiraz came from Shiraz, but no proof. But it a nice romantic story so lets say its true!!
sources are Jancis Robinson's Vine Grapes and Wines and Oxford Companion to Wine.

Delheim Winery in South Africa produces a wine called Spatzendreck. That refers to the first efforts 30 years ago of the then newly arrived wine-maker, Spatz Sperling. He proudly showed his first wine to a friend who bluntly remarked "It tastes like shit". Stung into even greater efforts, Spatz determined that his friend would soon drink his words. He called his Late Harvest wine "Spatzendreck" (Sparrow Shit), and illustrated the label with a cheery sparrow on top of a barrel "doing a whoopsy". Spatzendreck remains one of Delheims most popular wines to this day.

California's Storybook Mountain Vineyards was given its name by owner Jerry Seps for three reasons. The winery was originally started by two German brothers, Jacob and Adam Grimm. Secondly Jerry thinks "fine wine is like a story book - it enhances your life. Adds another dimension to it." Lastly "in your minds eye, you imagine what a winery should be, its like a fairy story".
source: David Darlington Angels' Visits.

The famous Zinfandel winery in Napa Valley gets its name from an early owner, Mr Lewenberger who named it Sutter after his wife's maiden name in 1906. Sutter Street in San Francisco was named after her brother.
source: David Darlington Angels' Visits.

Three Choirs Vineyard takes its name from the famous annual Three Choirs Festival which is held nearby. Three Choirs' 70 acres vineyard is in Gloustershire, England, and makes a range of white and red wines plus a methode champenoise sparkler.

R H Phillips winery in Dunnigan Hills, California were looking for a name for their new premium range of wines. Winery President John Gigiure asked why all the selected barrels were branded with the letters TH. Winemaker Barry Bergman explained it identifed barrels with heads (top and bottom) toasted as well as the side staves. Gigiure decided the name Toasted Head was not only distinctive but acknowledges the part the barrel plays in winemaking.

When a vast piece of land known as "Good Success" in South Africa's Cape was divided in the eighteenth century Colonel Alexander Gordon bought a plot for his farm. He named it in honour of the Warwickshire Regiment that he commanded during the Boer War. Now it is the home of the Ratcliffe family who planted classic grape varieties. Warwick Estate make prizewinning Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Franc and Pinotage.

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24 September 2000