A Happy Cautionary Tale

Naomi1 It seems absolutely clear that Naomi Brilliant is happier now that her wine brand, Roshambo, is dead. It seems too that Naomi's time confronting the wine business left her bitter. At least that's what I get from reading the Santa Rosa Press Democrat Article, "Roshambo Founder Shifts From Wine to Farming".

The most fun, I mean real fun, I had working with a winery PR client was when I did a bit of work for Naomi Brilliant at Roshambo. I was simply so far out of my element working with the wise and strange Naomi that the only alternative I had was to give in to the fun she demanded of her brand.

The wines? Outstanding. Every single one of them. And I suspect with a bit more discipline and a willingness to completely discard her self, Naomi could have made Roshambo a huge success financially. So, while I'm sad to see this brand go away, it is heartening to see Naomi Brilliant throw it away so thoroughly and so honesty.

The way Naomi Brilliant went about promoting her wines was..different. Her tasting room out on Westside Road in Healdsburg was monumentally beautiful, hugely different than any other, gargantuanly expensive to build and mightily disorienting to those used to the common. Naomi's promotional instincts I'm pretty sure were a true expression of her own personality, including as they did a compulsion to produce outlandish events, a complete lack of convention, a willlingness to showcase and celebrate drag queens, and a complete deconstruction of wine industry norms. She simply didn't do things the way others thought she should or the way all others were inclined to. She lost her winery as a result, but anyone who didn't appreciate and revel in the way she brought down her tent just doesn't appreciate a good joke.

In the end it looks like the life of a salmon swimming upstream got to her.

“I like the idea of making wine. I don't like the idea of selling
wine,” Brilliant said Thursday from her family's Westside Road estate.
“I really don't care about the wine world.”

That's about right.


So now, according to the PD article, Naomi is farming vegetables and, according to her blog, watching her chickens die. I haven't talked to her in a long while, but I'd be willing to guess this girl is happier now than she has been in a long time. How cool is that?

You could call Roshambo a cautionary tale. And I suppose it is: There is a very distinct way the wine industry and most wine drinkers like to see wine presented: As the golden and immortal piss of the Gods, not as the idiosyncratic golden stream of consciousness that Naomi offered it as. Tow the line. Reap the reward. Drop the line and consequences will ensue. So be it.

I think the wine industry will be a little worse off without Roshambo. But I bet that its founder will be happier. It's a good trade off.

6 Responses

  1. Charlie Olken - January 15, 2010

    It is always a shame to lose persons of character from the wine biz, but when I look at folks like Randall Grahm and John Williams (Frog’s Leap), I am heartened that there are places for them.
    Selling wine is a lot different from making it, and the more the artist in the winemaking, the less natural is the selling. Yet, wineries are a business in the final analysis. And one needs not only to make wine, but to make wine that people want to drink. And wineres need not only to make wines that people want to drink, they do need to figure out how to sell it.
    Roshambo may have had a very hard time with that last requirement, and I apologize for seeming to throw stones at the dearly departed, but it was never evident that the winery cleared the quality level hurdle all that well either.
    One can only hope you are right that being out the winery biz, with its multiple demands, will make the lady happier. Paper covers rocks and scissors cut paper, but happiness trumps all.

  2. mark - January 15, 2010

    I don’t think there was anything that unusual about what Naomi did except she was allowed to do it and it happened within the context of the wine industry. Essentially she took family money and threw it away doing silly non-successful promotional activities. The winery was for sale for years before it was finally sold to the Silver Oak folks so her actual run was quite short. It may have been fun to watch the way we all get caught up in celebrity like activities but being famous for being reckless with inherited money is nothing to champion although I do aspire to it.

  3. Scott - January 16, 2010

    thanks tom for posting this. i also had a blast in my time working at roshambo and will always respect and embrace naomi’s mission to make great wine approachable to a new crowd of enthusiasts. i understand it was a controversial approach, and i understand why some people like mark might not have appreciated such “celebrity like activities,” whatever that means.
    but what i don’t understand is how people like mark “essentially” know anything at all about naomi’s family money. and i personally wouldn’t call their promotional activities “non-successful.” drawing 500-700 people to a beloved annual event like the rps tourney which wasfeatured on the CBS Sunday Morning Show? yeah. total, complete failure. nothing to appreciate or champion there.
    good luck aspiring to inherited money, mark.

  4. Raelinn Schmitt - January 17, 2010

    I had the opportunity to taste the wines and found them quite good. What I find is that the owner, the winemaker, the marketing and PR person and the salesperson are not always one in the same. Know your strong suite and play it; or hire the right person for the job. There’s my 2 cents. She went out on a limb. Good for her! It didn’t work. So whay? We’ve all tried things that didn’t work. My guess is, we’ll see her again, better for this lesson, as it should be with all of us.

  5. Lee - January 18, 2010

    I mean no offense to anyone involved, but a local resident of Westside Rd, I just never (or very rarely) stopped in there, or brought friends over.
    I’m a wino snob to be sure, but we generally did not find the wines to be appealing, nor did my “crowd” care for the ambiance of the place, and we uniformly hated the music. I do appreciate someone trying to execute their own vision however, so kudos for that, even if it was not my cup of vino…
    Now, it’s interesting that I still don’t go there, but for different reasons, the current place is just not that much “fun”.

  6. Fog Light - February 26, 2010

    Its unique one, which helps to say more about this business to read. Thanks

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