What's in a Winery Name?

Experts say: Settle on brand image before naming

by Jane Firstenfeld
winery names
The Bayliss family behind Ghost Hill Cellars opted not to use its family name for the winery. The decision proved to be a smart marketing move. The family built Ghost Hill's new tasting room, above, which opens May 3.
San Rafael, Calif.—“You want to have a simple, memorable name that is not too difficult to pronounce or spell,” said Dr. Liz Thach, wine business professor at Sonoma State University.

“If you have a lot of foreign customers, make sure your name doesn’t have a different meaning in other languages. Your winery name should be both unique and simple. A lot of people use their last name, but if it’s too common, that can be dangerous unless you can differentiate yourself,” said Thach, whose own name is pronounced not “thatch,” but “Toch” (rhymes with Mayor Koch).

Thach addressed winery naming after a discussion among Wines & Vines colleagues who had looked up an iconic California winery in WinesVinesDATA only to discover a plethora of wine brands using similar names. It turns out that the famous Ridge Vineyards of Cupertino, Calif., shares part of its identity with 199 wine brands in North America.

It’s unlikely that many consumers would confuse the classic Cabernet Sauvignon producer with 250,000-case Oak Ridge Winery in Lodi, Calif. Nor would buyers likely mistake Oak Ridge’s Royal Ridge Silk Oak brand with Silver Oak, producer of popular and pricey Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa’s Oakville AVA and in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. Currently, 114 North American producers use “Oak” as part of their names.
Ridges and oaks are dominant elements of many wine country landscapes. Geographic terms provide important imagery to wine labels all over the world. Still, Thach pointed out, “Newcomers sometimes take advantage of famous names.”

Some wineries militantly guard their names, notably Napa-based (family-named) Duckhorn Vineyards. A decade ago, Duckhorn settled with Duck Walk Vineyards in Water Mill, N.Y.
Situated on Long Island—and, Thach noted, home to an actual path trodden by the famous Long Island ducks—Duck Walk continues to use its name. Duckhorn is reportedly revisiting the decision this year, based on a contention that Duck Walk does not feature its geographic location prominently enough in marketing materials and labels. Only seven North American wineries employ “Duck” in their names.

On the other hand, at least two wineries have learned to co-exist with similar monikers. When Jordan Vineyard and Winery of Sonoma County, Calif., discovered a Jordan Winery in South Africa, members of the two families visited with each other to work things out; they now amicably support each other’s business in the international market, Thach reported.

Fun with numbers
With 8,000-some wineries in North America, near-duplications of names are inevitable. There is, as yet, no established trivia game involving winery names. Just in case someone devises one, here’s a cheat sheet for competitive wine geeks. (If you do come up with one, please let us know.) 

Canyon—49 Pond—12
Country—34 Prairie—18
Creek—295 Ridge—199
Crest—43 River—100


Lake—64 View—47
Mount/Mountain—145 Vista—23

Critters and Trees
Bear—25 Duck—7
Birch—6 Frog—10
Buffalo—7 Goose—12
Bull—9 Hawk—24
Cedar—18 Horse—25
Cow—10 Oak—114
Coyote—11 Quail—8
Dog—37 Turtle—7

Residences, Relations and Sensations

Estate—462 House—82
Family—354 Manor—9
Farm—183 Naked—9
Ghost—8 Wild—39
Home—19 Wind—57

Think it through
No one gets to choose their birth name, and everyone now enjoys the freedom to adopt or adapt a spouse’s surname—or not. Couples and their families may squabble about potential names for offspring, resulting in decisions that are sometimes regrettable—at least for children saddled with difficult or embarrassing names. Parents, though, aren’t required to trademark their children’s names, or secure a TTB COLA (certificate of label approval).

Naming a business is a serious business—part sentiment, part art, part science—and can have serious economic ramifications. Marketing maven Dixie Huey, proprietor of Trellis Growth Partners LLC, has helped to name and brand many wineries in the Pacific Northwest.

Frequently, clients come to her with a name in mind. This is not the sequence she recommends. “There’s more of a process to selecting a name. First, can it be trademarked? If you have a name, you need to get it trademarked, or go back to square one.”

Huey’s clients fall into different categories. Group No. 1, she said, wants to use its family name. “In certain circumstances, this may be easier to trademark, and help consumers understand the handcrafted, personal side of the brand. On the con side, you don’t want it to be hard to say: People don’t want to appear stupid. We try to get the brand owner to think farther down the line. How familiar is it? There are enough competitive barriers: You don’t want to create others. You want to make your wine easier to select,” Huey said.

Huey said she loves the naming process, although it can be time- consuming and frustrating. “Do we make up a word, use a foreign word? It takes a tremendous amount of energy to find something easy-to-use that’s not taken. You never want to be in a rush when you’re trying to name a business,” she stressed.

In starting or rebranding a winery, Huey suggested, do not start with a name. First, make a business plan: Define your vision, who your customers will be and how you will be selling your wines. Understand your business model and do not do any design work until you have a trademarked name.

“It happens all the time,” Huey said. “People come up with a name and a design, and then the name cannot be trademarked.” That’s an expensive and time-consuming mistake.

“You must decide what the business is going to be, otherwise, you’re spinning your wheels. Let the process guide you. Go for the trademark, then for the packaging and identity.”

As a successful name, Huey cited Oregon’s Ghost Hill Cellars. Originally, the multi-generational company had thought to use the Bayliss family name. However family members opted to instead refer to the legend of a gold miner on their property, who’d found good fortune, was murdered for his hoard and supposedly returned post-mortem in search of his lost treasure.

“It’s easy to say and memorable,” Huey said. Ghost Hill’s new tasting room will open May 3 in Carlton, Ore. Father and son built the simple structure, reminiscent of a prospector’s shack, with their own hands. “They are people of the land,” Huey said. “It’s so them.”

Another of Huey’s Oregon clients is Knudsen Vineyards in the Dundee Hills. The family decided to launch a wine brand after decades of supplying grapes to neighboring vintners, including Argyle Winery. Knudsen Vineyards will release its first Pinot Noir wines in 2014.

“They decided to go with 40 years of equity” as a supplier of vineyard-designated grapes, Huey said.

Creating a brand name is like finding “brand unami,” that hard-to-describe fifth flavor. “It’s textural, like a sixth sense,” Huey said. “What makes a brand like that is when it can all sing together: The name, the design and the story should all work together to leave a sticky imprint.”

Posted on 04.24.2013 - 12:03:48 PST
The wine industry demonstrates a failure of imagination when it comes to naming. That the vast majority of names are eponymous is one example. That the next largest group are geographical or topographical (Diamond Creek, Clos du Bois) is another. That the third largest group invokes flora and fauna (Silver Oak, Screaming Eagle) is yet another.

So many wineries sound just like so many other wineries. Isn't the whole point of branding to differentiate?

In addition to being easy to say and spell, strategically sound and trademark-able, a good name should also be personable, emotional and memorable. It should have energy and depth. A good name should be a conversation-starter.

That's a lot to ask from a word or two. More than most names will ever achieve. But it's worth aiming for. It's your business after all.

Posted on 04.28.2013 - 15:40:30 PST
I agree with this idea partially, but not completely. Granted, the winery name should be simple to pronounce, but that's about as far as you need to go with it. Don't spend hours/days/weeks trying to come up with the "perfect" name - you can't do it.

People will remember your WINE and they'll remember THE EXPERIENCE at your tasting room. When those are both great, they'll remember the name. Especially if you do some *extra* marketing, like handing them a flyer that lists your wines, or popping a coupon with your winery's name on it in the bag with their purchases.

Don't depend on just the name. What's important is the *product*, the *experience* they visitor has, and the *follow up marketing* that you do afterwards.