What’s in a name..?

Jul 26, 2021

So what’s in a name..? Lots of things can be determined or implied from names. In fact, there is a whole field of study relating to this and it’s called ‘etymology’ – which is the study of the origin of words and how they change throughout history.

Of course, not every word has a history attached to it, especially with newer languages (as compared to the ancient origin ones at least) so some words within new languages and newer countries or continents are sometimes not as richly endowed with a history that can be traced.

In the world of winemaking, and indeed many of the food industries too, many products and their associated names are protected under European Laws by PDO’s or ‘protected designation of origin’ schemes and certifications as a result of history.

These PDOs are designed to protect the integrity and provenance of products that have in some cases been made in those regions for centuries, but especially where the region in which it is made contributes to their specific formulation, or flavour, or appeal – many of which you would be familiar with: Products such as Parma Ham from Italy, or Parmigiano-Reggiano and Gorgonzola cheeses from Italy, Stilton from the UK, and even Melton-Mowbray pork pies too. To use those names on the packaging is illegal unless it can be proven that the product was actually produced there.

And the same applies to Winemaking. Champagne is a region in France responsible for the bubbly as we all refer to it, but unless it is made in that region, it cannot be called Champagne, hence the MCC classification in SA. The same applies to wines made in Bordeaux, or the Rhone regions of France, or the Spanish Tempranillos made in the region of La Rioja.

“So what…?”  I hear you say.. “What is the connection here..?’   Read on and you will see where we are going.

For a good while, we have been looking for a way of naming our wines in a way that not only defines them for what they are, but also, with some thought, allows a person to perhaps figure out what sort of wine is being produced. But mostly, it’s just a bit of fun!

Labelling legislation largely prevents a winemaker from explicitly linking their products to anything directly, or even implied to any of the PDO regions.

So if one is not a resident of the Bordeaux region and making wine in the same style that a typical blend in Bordeaux would be made (in other words, from the six allowed varietals of Cab Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Carmenere) one cannot actually call it ‘a Bordeaux’ or even ‘Bordeaux styled’ wine or anything remotely close to that – since Bordeaux is a protected region.

Whilst I was researching the provenance of each of the major wine-making regions of the world, and looking for how to name my own wines, I came across an interesting observation (which, with hindsight should have been quite obvious really):

Almost every such region – apart from being along climatically similar latitudes on the earth (all between 35’ and 50’, whether North or South, by the way) is fed and watered by a major river, with the following examples:

Bordeaux in France has the 800km long Garonne river, whilst the Rhone region has the 800km long Rhone river.

Oregon in the North East USA is served by the 301km long Willamette river

Rioja in Northern Spain is fed by the massive 930km river Ebro.

In Australia, the huge 2,508km Murray river feeds their top wine regions

Italy’s Piedmont region is in the 652km Po river valley and finally,

Argentina has the 273km river Mendoza around which the vines flourish.

o how do these seemingly disparate stories of etymology, protected designation and great rivers hang together..?

I started reading about the etymology of the rivers and found that in Europe in particular, many of them are currently named after a succession of changes throughout the centuries.

Most often the rivers were named by the earliest civilisations who used the rivers for industrial purposes of travel, or shipping, or recognised their agricultural significance and started planting around them. Ancient Greek and Persian influences were key here. Then Roman civilisations seemed to adapt the names as the years went by and as they receded, the names adapted again, leaning towards the current civilisations and countries as we would know them.

The Rhone river in the region of the same name had the Greek name of Rhodanos, which in later Roman times was the Rhodanus. This morphed into Rodano (in Italian) Rodonos (in early French) and Rhone (in German)  which is the name that still stands. The consistent translation of all of these words points to “the river that runs, or rolls” or in short “rolling river”.

Similarly, the Garonne river in the Bordeaux region has consistent early names, along the lines of “Garumna” and according to Latin and Aquitanian translations, this means “Stony River”.

Lastly, the vast river Ebro running across the Iberian peninsula of Northern Spain had the early Greek name of Iber, which in Roman times was similarly the Hiber, or Iberus (giving rise to the name of the peninsula too). Interestingly enough, it seems that in ancient Greek and Roman, the word Iber seems to have simply meant “river”, so rather than having named it the “Iber river” it was simply called “Iber”.

So now, you can look forward to drinking Thorngrove Stony River, Thorngrove Rolling River, and Thorngrove Iber wines and maybe reflect on the style that their contents are meant to represent.


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