Trying to think back to the start of the "special name" trend...

I have been trying to recall my first encounter with the seemingly new (2 decades?) trend of giving wines “special names,” but can’t recall when it was.

Do you folks remember when you first started encountering wines with “special names” rather than the “old style” of Winery/grape/region/vineyard naming.

It seems all the rage now, but the origin eludes me. I don’t mean it disparagingly, it is a paradigm shift that I can’t remember the beginning of even though it happened after I arrived!

Perhaps Randal Graham and Bonny Doon? (That’s my guess.)

Maybe the meritage trend for naming a house wine, like we saw with Cardinale or Insignia when they first hit and were made by KJ and Phelps, respectively? But, they were still labeled as cabernets, I think. (Would Opus One or Dominus count in the special name category like we see with “The Prisoner,” etc…?)

It’s so common now that I have become accustomed to not being able to identify a wine by it’s “special name” when I first encounter it, but don’t recall when it came into vogue.


The SQN wine array, the Linne Calodo wine names, Sans Liege wines, etc…where the name of the wine gives no indication of its content and is specifically given a moniker.

I pondered Grange Hermitage, but that tells me about the wine, actually.

It strikes me as a fascinating branding trend, and seems to have been embraced in the marketplace, so who gets credit?

Marketing names for CA wine go back at least 40 years. You mentioned Phelps Insignia which was first released in 1974. While many of the early Insignias were predominately Cabernet Sauvignon, I seem to recall the 1975 had a significant amount of Merlot. Caymus produced a Pinot Noir blanc, released under the name Oeil de Pedrix, in the same time frame, and they apparently revive the name periodically. Both of these predate Bonny Doon by about a decade …

Wineries/Corporations have been building “franchises” with made up names for as long as you can go back in history.

VIRGINIA DARE - At one time the biggest selling wine in the United States, was founded in 1835 in North Carolina.

GALLO - Went nuts with their pop wines in the 1960s,

EUROPE - Starting shipping wines called “Lancers” and “Mateus” after World War II into the United States.

It’s just marketing to the masses. Today the high end wineries are following suit.

Oooh - that used to be one of my favorite Roses -

Thanks for the nudge!

I had completely forgotten about that Caymus!

Morgan from Bedrock was talking on the “I’ll Drink to That” podcast about wines made in California almost a hundred years ago with names like “Burgundy” though Pinot was nowhere near being in the blend. So “made up” marketing names have been around a long time.

Right you are. I was trying to think of when I recalled it hitting “higher end” wines.

Man, 1974 for Insignia, I am getting old.


The super Tuscans, Sassicaia in particular, must have given a nudge to the special names for high end wines.

P Hickner

I think that when we first saw many California Cabernet producers lose their grape sources in the 70s and 80s, many of them didn’t like the idea of spending so much energy marketing a “single vineyard” wine that they would eventually lose the grape source for.

Hence the use of “Proprietary” names for Meritage/Bordeaux Blends and Cabernets. It’s much easier for a Napa Valley winery to market a wine with a label/name they own rather than worry about building a “Single Vineyard” site that they don’t own and could lose in the long run.

And this is the problem with the California model. If the wineries owned the grapes, then there would be more incentive to take care of the vineyards and find site-specific places that they could market.