If you spend enough time reading about wine or talking to winos, there is no doubt that the topic of marketing will come up at some point. Everyone has an opinion when it comes to marketing, wine labels, and the like. My favorite wine labels are the ones that have a unique story behind them. I think that this can serve a winery well in making a personal connection with the consumer. On my recent trip to Oregon and Washington, I found some really great story labels, but one of my favorites was the story behind Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards.


About_photo1Don and Judy Phelps purchased an existing 25 acre orchard in 2004 and started the process of updating the property to make wine in Washington's beautiful getaway of Lake Chelan. The Phelps' adventure in growing wine grapes started with 2 acres of Cabernet Franc in 2005, followed by plantings of Gewürztraminer and Riesling in 2006, and adding Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec and Chenin Blanc in 2007. The Phelps' themselves have a great story, coming from diverse backgrounds, Don coming from the world of civil engineering, and Judy from a background in zoology. Judy completed the Winemaking Certificate program at UC Davis, and went to work making wines, while Don occupies himself managing the vineyard.

Don and Judy's personal stories are not the only ones told at Hard Row to Hoe. I had the pleasure of joining Don and Judy for dinner in Walla Walla, along with fellow bloggers Josh Wade and Randy Watson, and had the pleasure of getting a personal explanation of the story behind the winery's name, and it's label. The story has all the elements of a classic American tale. It is a story of American know-how, industry, and sex for hire.


Brandever-Hard-Row-to-Hoe-JIt seems that after the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam there were more jobs than just the dam workers at risk, including those of some enterprising ladies who had been using their talents to serve the workers. Some of these entrepreneurial women had relocated to the Edgemont Lodge, located in an area known as Point Lovely, and were offering their services to a new clientele of workers that were busy working in the Howe Sound Mine. In another display of business acumen, a local resident had started a row boat taxi service that would carry the workers from nearby Lucerne to Point Lovely. The story of these intrepid American heroes is where the name of the winery comes from. Get it? If not, think about it for a sec, it will come to you.

Not only does the name point to this story, but the labels for the wine tell the same story. The label illustrates the happy customers being ferried across the water to and from Point Lovely. There are some really great details within the label, such as the flag, which seems to behave anthropomorphically based on the direction the boaters are traveling (again, think about it).

The great thing about this story is not just in it's salacious details. This story is humorous and fun, but it also is tied to the history of the area where the winery is located. In a really interesting way, this story is tied to the winery's place, making it almost a visual display of terroir. It also shows the personality of the owners of the winery, as the Phelps' sense of humor is readily evident in the entire enterprise. The label is cool and unique, but it's not vapid or meaningless, like so many of the infamous "critter" labels.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that it doesn't hurt anything that the wines are enjoyable and of high quality. I tasted several of the Hard Row to Hoe wines while I was in Washington, and each was a positive experience, whether it be their Rosé, Zinfandel, or Pinot Noir. The story is the hook, but the wine speaks for itself as well. The Hard Row marketing is effective because it is backed up with a quality product. Too often when you try a wine with a catchy label, you find that the label is being used to see wine that nobody would want otherwise, which isn't the case here.

If you are interested in hearing more about the Hard Row to Hoe story, you can visit their website here. You should also know that Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards and Barbara Evans, the famous SeattleWineGal, are currently offering a great opportunity to visit Lake Chelan, which I've heard called, "the most beautiful place to taste wine in Washington." They are giving away a seven night (Holy crap!) stay in a three bedroom residence in Lake Chelan. You can sign up for the opportunity to win here.

Label image taken from graphic-exchange.com and image of Don and Judy Phelps from hardrow.com