What’s in a Name? Dirty Laundry Vineyards and Frog’s Leap Winery

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What’s in a Name?

Dirty Laundry Vineyards and Frog’s Leap Winery

This case was prepared by Dr. Brent McKenzie of the University of Western Ontario.
As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, "a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet". Well the owners of Scherzinger Vineyards of Summerland, British Columbia, Ron and Cher Watkins, might alter the word "rose" to "rosé", but they would definitely disagree with the bard as a whole. The reason would be that Scherziner Vineyard had been in operations for over ten years, but had experienced little success, until that is it changed its name to Dirty Laundry Vineyards in 2005 (www.dirtylaundry.ca). But where did the name come from, and why would a name change, with no change to the product inside, make such a difference?

The name was developed by a marketing expert Bernie Hadley-Beauregard of Brandever (www.brandever.com), who had previously achieved notoriety with his other vineyard company names, Blasted Church Vineyards and Therapy Vineyards. But why pick the name Dirty Laundry? Wouldn't the association of the words "dirty" and "laundry" not only have little connection to wine, but even worse, a connotation of unsanitary conditions, and work? In fact there was a real historical connection to the Dirty Laundry name as it comes from the late 1800's / early 1900's in Summerland. According to one of the owners, Cher Watkins, "it's a real cute story about a little Chinese man who apparently ran away from a Canadian Pacific Rail construction project nearby and established Summerland's first laundry, with the laundry on the first floor and a gambling den and brothel on the second floor." Thus the words "dirty laundry" have absolutely no connection to the literal meaning of the words, but rather "dirty laundry" is a double entendre as it represents a hidden fact or something that one wishes to keep to oneself (say running a bordello?), in this case the "dirty laundry" of Summerland.

But why would people, even if they knew the story behind the name, want to pick a wine called Dirty Laundry, when they weren't buying the same product under the previous name? Well, for wine in the Canadian marketplace, particularly for modestly priced wines, it is all about being noticed. The Canadian marketplace is crowded—there are over 200 wineries in Ontario and British Columbia alone—and, even though consumption of wine has continued to increase over the last ten years reaching 13.9 litres in 2005, the way in which wine is both marketed and sold across the country varies. Although the Canadian wine sector is dominated by firms from Ontario and British Columbia, the retail product is sold in a variety of ways from corner variety stores in Quebec, to government-run retail outlets in Ontario and British Columbia, to vineyard owned stores, and this makes it very difficult for a small vineyard to succeed.

Having a unique and interesting name may get a wine noticed, but surely it can't succeed without a quality product? The Canadian wine industry has done a very successful job of improving the quality of its products in the minds of Canadian consumers, and many Canadian wines have won awards in international competitions. For Dirty Laundry Vineyards, changing the name was only one step in the process. Changing the name can get a customer to stop and pick up and look at the bottle, which has been shown in marketing research to increase the chance of the wine being purchased by more than 50%. This is attributed to the fact that Canadian wine consumers are changing the way they go about buying and consuming wine. "Browsing" has an extensive history in terms of shopping for products such as clothes, cars, and electronics, but less so for wine. Customers seem to like wines with easy-to-read, striking names and attractive images— examples include Laughing Stock Vineyards, Red Rooster Winery, and Pansy (the world's first "gay" wine). Wines are being marketed more like a fashion product in part because after enjoying a nice bottle of wine, the majority of consumers have a difficult time remembering the name, and a memorable name helps winemakers overcome this problem.

But a memorable name can only go so far, particularly with the Generation X market who are often willing to try new things and are also much less brand-loyal than Baby Boomers. Dirty Laundry Vineyards focused on increasing production (doubling production since 2000), and, as was the case with John Williams of Frog's Leap Winery (www.frogsleapwine.com), there was a vision by the founder, Edgar Scherzinger. As the original owner of the vineyard, Edgar went against the local agricultural researchers in Summerland in the 1970's who claimed that European varietal grapes (of which the Gewurztraminer wines are made) would not be able to survive in internal BC winters (the suggestion was to plant hybrids, which in hindsight hindered the growth of BC vintners as hybrid grapes did not make good wine). Thus although the change to the label and the resulting press have certainly provided Dirty Laundry Vineyards with a lot of positive results, it can be argued it is the fact that Dirty Laundry Vineyards has one of the longest histories in growing grapes and making wine in the Okanagan valley that will ensure its success beyond the initial buzz about the name.

Dirty Laundry Vineyards has won awards for its Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer wines, and at the Okanagan Wine Festival in 2005 it won the Gold Wine Packaging Award. As noted, the story behind the name helps to explain its origin, but the packaging itself is designed to convey cleanliness and purity (the logo is a small old-fashioned iron with stylized steam rising from the iron in the shape of a wine grove). But can the name and the look of the package result in sustained success? This is the question that Dirty Laundry Vineyards will soon face.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How would you describe the positioning strategy for Dirty Laundry Vineyards? How would that compare with the positioning strategy of Frog's Leap?

  1. Frog’s Leap has grown over the years, with respect to quality and reputation—not in terms of production or volume. In terms of a strategy typology, this is a profitability strategy. Should Dirty Laundry follow the same strategy? Why/Why not?

  1. Do you think the first half of the 21st century will be a hospitable environment for winemakers in the Canada? Why or why not?

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