Orange wines are now a thing, but who invented the term?

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The category of ‘orange wines’ – wines from white grapes that have been fermented on their skins – is now quite mainstream! In the last year, supermarkets in the UK have started listing them. And I even did a wine column in the Sunday Express on orange wines (at the editor’s request) back in 2014.

But where does the term come from? I don’t think many people realize this, but it was UK-based wine merchant David Harvey (Raeburn Wine) who coined it. In his own words, this is how the term for these wines entered the wine lexicon:

I actively discussed it from first principles (when I worked with Frank on Etna) in 2004, and started to use it thereafter. It was the year of making munjebel bianco #1, and we were drinking radikons, dario princic, gravner, vodopevic, castellada, prior-maceration era la biancara, massia vecchia etc.
It arose from the concern that there was no name or category, and the divergent wines would face rejection in both the on and off-trades. The rational was that there was no industry standard to label the wines by the same criteria as white/rosé/red, i.e. by the final colour of the wine, and not the component parts nor the technique. All the other possible names were already used in specific genres – vin jaune (yellow), rivesaltes ambré (amber) etc. – or were too pretentious, like golden.
And I did not take very seriously orange state, orange county, orange fruit. Georgia was discussed at some point: someone (who?) told me that ‘red wine’ meant just that, but that ‘wine’ tout-court meant macerated white grapes.
As sous l’nez my early offers to privates also also went to some UK press, with a section on orange wine from 2006.
I used it ‘naturally’ in tastings or conversation with Jancis, Jamie Goode, the Dressner team at Favorita, Rose Murray-Brown MW, Alice (at La Dive, in Veneto, in London, etc.) after which they all used it for the first time. There is no prior mention i have come across online or in print. I also used it with a bunch of winemakers.
The first article in print was Rose-Murray Brown in The Scotsman i think. Jancis was an early adopter online after she attended Contrada del’Etna tasting. Frank was in Belgium getting divorced and so I flew down to man his table. It has since been used in most all the major US broadsheets. L’Ortolan restaurant, whom I have helped out over the years, have run an orange wine section since about 2007.
So, we could now go back and say that trad tokaji is orange, and modern tokaji is white. Same for white port – foot tread (orange) or direct press (white but oxidative).
Of course, someone may have said it once before. I was just systematic about choosing the name and using it, with a certain group of people at a certain time, with no ambition other than enhancing communication, which seems to have worked.
However, I cannot now say that I agree with my former self entirely on the name!
wine journalist and flavour obsessive

One thought on “Orange wines are now a thing, but who invented the term?

  1. As far as the TTB is concerned there are two types of orange wine. Standard orange wine and Other than Standard Orange Wine (OTSOW) both coming from oranges. Not grapes.

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