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Threesome-Themed Napa Wine Is in Trouble For ‘Fifty Shades’-ish Marketing

A wine called Ménage à Trois is in hot, hot water

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Ménage à Trois

When looking at the extensive portfolio of brands held by 71-year-old Napa Valley winery Trinchero Family Estates, one may or may not pause at its Ménage à Trois label, which — per its website — was thusly named because it’s a three-grape blend, created when its “boldly curious founders decided to ‘experiment threely.’” It’s double entendres like that one that have gotten Ménage à Trois into trouble in the UK, where regulators say that the company’s branding is just too, too sexy.

Residents of the United Kingdom (that’s England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) are some of the biggest wine consumers in the globe, the Telegraph reported last fall, downing (on average) about 108 bottles of wine a year. The marketing of those bottles is regulated by an agency called the Portman Group, which is tasked with promoting “responsible drinking habits among consumers, while fostering a balanced understanding of alcohol-related issues,” its website says.

That includes ensuring that beer, wine, and hard alcohol sold in the UK follow certain label, advertising, and marketing rules, including a code that prohibits “directly or indirectly linking a product to sexual activity or sexual success.” As part of that enforcement, the agency performed “an independent audit of the market to measure compliance,” and that’s how Ménage à Trois caught the agency’s eye.

In an announcement sent this week, the Portman Group says that Ménage à Trois’s Midnight blend (the webpage for which begins with the question “Do you like to do it in the dark?” and ends with the promise that after tasting the wine, “you’ll reveal your deepest, darkest desires”) has a code-transgressing label that “created a link between the product and sex.”

According to Portman’s review (which is worth reading in full here as it is a hoot), while the phrase “ménage à trois is commonly known to be linked to sexual activity, it can also be used figuratively, and so the name was not inherently problematic on its own,” but that label text like “turn out the lights and savor the pleasures of the dark” was a deliberate link to sexual congress.

Trinchero disputed Portman’s argument, saying that since they purchased the Ménage à Trois brand in 2004, it had become “iconic within the wine industry,” and that the label in question, which was launched in 2014, was merely being marketed with “joyful and provocative references that clearly referred to the relationship between the consumer and the wine, and the wine’s promise to be deeply satisfying and suitable for savoring in the dark.”

A look at the language Ménage à Trois uses to market its other brands might suggest that this argument is a bit of a ret-con: Each label’s page is presented as a “Wine Confession,” with blends like “Luscious” (“What does temptation look like? Infatuation feel like? Seduction taste like? You’ll find out when you let us expose you to our darker side”) and “Decadence” (“Here, inhibitions disappear as we indulge your passions and arouse your senses”).

Ménage à Trois, one suspects, is a wine one buys for the Fifty Shades of Grey fan in one’s life, which makes it all the more puzzling that its Sparkling Rose (“Let us tickle you with playful, pink bubbles of passion”) was presented in the company’s Instagram presence as an ideal Mother’s Day gift. Thanks for raising me, mom! I thought you could use a ménage à trois!

In the end, Trinchero agreed to change their branding, at least for UK audiences. In a statement reported on by Vice, the winery said that “although we do not agree with the Panel’s interpretation under the Code, we respect the Panel’s view and will undertake to revise the label to remove the mentioned references” — a move that might make it a slightly-less-uncomfortable brand to bring home to one’s mother.

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