Putting a Label on the Un-Nameable
Bernie Hadley Beauregard is the brains behind some of the most irreverent, whimsical and funny winery personalities
Ever since Thurston Howell III, I've never trusted a man with three names. And a guy with three names who's involved with the wine industry - well, that's just the kiss of death for me. I've never been one to revel in the art of grape crushing or the resulting aftermath - at least not in the cultural sense - so it's the ultimate irony that a guy with three names should be just the guy to successfully market wine to a schlimiel like me. Enter Bernie Hadley Beauregard, the branding brains behind some of the most irreverent, whimsical and downright funny winery personalities this side of the Napa Valley, and north of the equator to boot.
It all began when he blew up a church. Well, not literally, but by recycling a local tale about a church that was moved to a mining community with the help of a little dynamite, Mr. Beauregard created Blasted Church Vineyards, a big shift from the winery's previous title of Prpich Hills, a name which you apparently need two tongues to pronounce.
In a sense, he blew up the austere branding strategies that have dominated the wine industry and, in doing so, created a brand so unique that, as he's proud to say, "the wine sells itself almost by word of mouth, with no money spent on advertising, and when we finished this project it was as if you could hear the jungle drums beating across the Okanagan." The crazy wine label with cartoon characters and objects seemingly defying gravity as they fly through space didn't hurt the unique take on the winery's new identity either.
And with the Blasted Church label known as The Gospel of the Critics adorning bottles of the vineyard's Pinot Gris, wherein caricatures resembling local wine writers stand in choir assembly, the brand was solidified in the hearts and minds of consumers (although some of the critics who saw themselves in the image may have felt defrocked in the process.) "One critic," Beauregard tells me, "who shall remain nameless, actually called me up and thanked me for not putting him on the label."
On that note, I ask Beauregard the old chicken or the egg question, or, in this case, the label or the name. "Really, it's a complete concept," he explains, "the two elements working simultaneously."
How, I wonder, had he found himself in this wine-branding niche. "Well, you could say I've always worked in the vice industry. After being with Purdy's, Starbucks and Granville Island Brewing, I figured I'd covered chocolate, beer and coffee so wine felt like a natural progression."
If Blasted Church seemed wacky and off-the-wall, Beauregard and his team at Brandever, the company he founded, were just warming up. Dirty Laundry Vineyard, re-branded from another unpronounceable name, was an instant success, no small part due to the story that went along with the new moniker. In the 1800s, in the original town of Summerland in the Okanagan, there was a Chinese laundry whose owner also ran a brothel on the second floor of the building.
When I mention that this label, which depicts an old iron with steam rising around it, seemed somewhat more reserved and downright elegant compared to Blasted Church, -especially given the accompanying story -Beauregard informs me that the rising steam hid curvaceous nudes in its midst. (Needless to say, I picked up a bottle immediately and accordingly had it brown paper bagged for the trip home for closer scrutiny.)
So how does all this wash with the clients? "Well, our clients at this point realize we do things out of the ordinary. Or as I like to say, we don't do pretty. Still it takes a great deal of courage for a client to make the leap, but our successes are evident. Still I'd say 40 per cent of our job is handholding the clients. In the case of Dirty Laundry, it took 11 months for them to finally bite but I'm very tenacious when I know it's the best thing for the client."
Hard Row To Hoe is another case in point, although even Beauregard had some reservations about this one, or as he says, "we surprised ourselves and had a little internal indigestion with this name." Again, another brothel story, this time surrounding an old mining community on Lake Chelan in Washington where this winery sits. Legend has it that a local set up an enterprising business rowing miners across the lake to the ladies of the night. Hence the winery's name. I ask whether there is a continuing brothel theme with the wineries he's re-branding. No matter how much good wine I drink my mind remains in the gutter unfortunately. "Mining communities and brothels go hand-in-hand, if you'll pardon the pun, so no, it's not a theme but when the story presents itself it's hard to ignore the possibilities. Folklore stories give another added value to the wine and provide a theme to the winery that extends beyond the labeling. Really, the label is just one layer of the communication."
From brothels to the stock market is not that big of stretch really, both selling dreams that are as tenuous as the desires that forged them, but grapes are far more long-lasting than either and the pleasures contained far more resounding. Or at least, after a second bottle it certainly seems that way.
Case in point is Laughing Stock, run by David and Cynthia Enns, a couple who left lucrative careers in the financial industry to turn their ability with multiplying one type of greenery into green thumbs running a winery. They hired Beauregard and company for their branding prowess and, along with the intriguing name, a unique packaging design was created depicting bands of ticker tape stock values the day the grapes were picked running across the bottles of wine. The financial theme was extended into the various names for their blended wine varieties.
The list of wineries and clients Brandever has worked with, and re-branded in the process, is vast and stretches from British Columbia to the Niagara Peninsula, California to New Zealand. Winery names run amok have a way of sticking in the brain; who can forget Megalomaniac, Spit Decisions, Organized Crime, Karma or Therapy, which features a Rorschach Inkblot Test on the label?
The ultimate irony is the working philosophy of Brandever wherein the creative juices flow from, as Beauregard tells me, "a fundamental belief that the world does not need another winery." Faced with that fact, what's a branding guy to do? "Mad Men, Desperate Housewives, Borat, No Country For Old Men, consumers crave this new type of edgy entertainment so why not wine? Why have an operatic Old World aesthetic for New World wines?". Beauregard asks. It's an impressive list of influences, although I would throw Who Wants To Marry A Midget into the mix to cover all the bases.
Finally, I come to my last question, one I have to ask mainly because my wife made me. I am not comfortable doing it. In reality, I feel like a third-grader but my wife assures me great journalism was founded on questions like this. I believe Barbra Walters has used versions of this question when interviewing heads of state.
"So tell me Bernie, if you were a wine what kind of wine would you be and what would your label look like?" At least I elicit a laugh.
"Well, I'd be one of those hearty, deep bold reds because that's what I like to drink, and as for a label, it would have to be something that would make even me shiver." Which is saying a lot from a man who has made even the most austere of the spit bucket brigade do a double-take as he boldly goes where no brand has gone before. Hell, only a sour grape could argue with a plan like that.