What’s in a Winery Name?

I met yesterday with potential clients who had an interesting dilemma.

They had just purchased a winery that had been around for about 10+ years. In recent years the brand wasn’t doing to well, a combination of factors had led it to reduce its production and have a good deal of older inventory on hand.

The dilemma: Do they stay with the same name for the winery or do they change the name.

What’s interesting about this question is that it is not so much a PR question as it is a personal question for the new owners. It’s true that certain marketing questions need to be brought into the equation: how much "brand equity" is there in the name? Is it a well known brand? How long will it take to sell the older inventory? To what extent is the existing wine club loyal to the former owners and the meaning behind the name?

All this is important, but a more important question is can the new owners embrace the old name, make it there own, and really get behind it? Or, should they start anew with their own brand, a name that reflects them and who they are and what they want to make at the winery and what they want to sell?

The answer to these questions made me recommend to the new owners that they change the name to something new. The most important reason has to do with the notion of embracing your passion.

Owners of any business must believe in their purpose and their reason for taking on a new enterprise. They need to embody the enterprise, particularly in a business such as wine, built as it is on personal relationships and the necessity of incorporating ego into the project. By starting over, as it were, the new owners are able to build something they know is all theirs. This translates into greater motivation and commitment and devotion to the project.

6 Responses

  1. Fredric Koeppel - March 10, 2006

    Here’s an example from a different field. A restaurant here closed after 23 years. It had started as a sort of world-beat “health-food” place that gradually, over the years, got musty and scuzzy and dirty, the food perpetually on a downward slope, the staff a bunch of aging clueless hippies. Nuff said, but it did retain some weird loyalty. A few months after it closed, a young chef took the building, did a little renovation (mainly very serious cleaning and throwing away), and opened a French bistro, really good food, reasonable prices, attractive wine list. But he kept the old name. And people wouldn’t go there because of the reputation attached to the name, or people DID go and wanted to know where the tofu and brown rice were. He eventually gave up, got some investors together and opened a whole new place in a different building with a new name. and he’s doing a great business. In other words, Tom, you gave your clients the right advice. People have long memories, for good or ill.

  2. Joe - March 10, 2006

    While I agree that a decision such as this is a personal issue, I don’t think you can so easily dismiss the PR/marketing aspect that a name change will have on a winery. In starting anew it is probably the single biggest mistake or single best PR decision they could make. It depends on the state of disarray the current winery is in. Are we talking a BV here that has recently been rocked by TCA tainted wines? Or are we talking an Inglenook; a winery that has long since lost any simblance of quality wine making? The stigma of producing sub-par wine is a tough one to get over. I won’t bother wasting my money any longer on Dominus Napanook because I had three bottles in a row that either had noticable TCA taint, or were just plain disappointing. There are too many good wines out there to waste time and money on a wine that has let you down even once.
    So, I think your advise to them was right, but not because it was “emotionally” or “motivationally” the right thing to do, but because it was a sound business decision. In keeping the name of the old winery they would have had to stick to many of the same business practices and they could forget about raising the price even if quality was raised substantially. Who in their right mind would pay more for a wine that just last vintage was crap? “Under New Management” rarely works because the faces on the inside may have changed, but the package on the outside looks all too familiar. In these days were the “artistry” of your wine lable (not to mention the name it bears) can make or break you, it’s probably best that these guys start with a clean slate and not spin their wheels trying to repair something that is broken.
    Besides, there are new wineries that pop up on a consistent basis. New wineries and wines are exciting and they’ll probably get more play PR/marketing-wise as a new start-up winery.

  3. tom - March 10, 2006

    Good points from both of you. It is tough to fight against an established reputation. In this case the reputation wasn’t even bad. It’s just that it wasn’t supurb. What brand equity is lost by not retaining he the name is more than made up for by the benefits of being able to create exactly what you want. And yes, there is PR value and a certain excitment that comes with a new brand. Thanks for he comments.

  4. Paul Mabray - March 10, 2006

    I think a brand is much stronger than that – look at tylenol with it’s cyanide scare and it still it sold (years ago) instead of being abandoned. I would look more to how the winery MARKETS and SELLS against its current successes and its past failures. It is that constant communication and PR factor that can take an established brand and revitalize it. Just changing the name does not fix the problem. To the restaurant comment, that is more a nature of location than branding.

  5. Zinman - March 10, 2006

    Look at Eos, which started life as Arciero winery. Money has never been an issue, but there hasn’t been a lot of success either.
    The name change set them back. Whatever good will was there vanished overnight and the winery started over with nothing but a label and some samples.
    It’s easier to rebuild a reputation than to start over. Many times the elements are the same becuase you start with new labels, possibly a new package and new marketing plans, but at least there’s some distribution and you have some customers.
    Changing the name gives accounts a reason to kick you out that they didn’t have before.

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