WHOSE BREW IS THIS, ANYWAY?
As the Fabulous Honey Parker and I continued our trip through the Napa Valley and up into St. Helena, we continued making grand discoveries.
One of these discoveries involved a Michelin-star restaurant, a lovely and generous wine-making couple, and a brand of beer you will probably never know unless you are extraordinarily lucky.
This all happened as part of the CoupleCo tour, in which Honey and I are interviewing couple entrepreneurs of Napa for the CoupleCo podcast (launching in January). In this case, we sat down with a dynamic duo who have deep roots in California winemaking. She was even born into a winery. It's in her blood.
WE MET THE TWO OF THEM IN A ST. HELENA RESTAURANT THAT WAS A REVELATION
It's called The Charter Oak.
They bill themselves as "a celebratory, family-style dining experience, with simple, approachable, and seasonal food," including produce from their own farm.
Talk about simple and approachable. We had a Michelin-star cheeseburger there. It was good.
We talked to this couple, Nile and Whitney, about life, the universe and everything as it pertains to being a couple who've branched off from winemaking to open a nano-brewery.
YES, THEY OWN A NANO BREWERY
What is a nano brewery?
It is a commercial brewery that is so small, it can barely be seen with the naked eye.
It's a commercial brewery that is so small, it can reasonably be run by one guy.
In this case, the brewery is run by Nile and Whitney, and an assortment of guys who seem to pop in as they can.
But being a nano brewery isn't all Nile and Whitney are doing. They have gone further down the rabbit hole of craft brewing.
They are treating brewing as one would treat small-batch winemaking, and are even producing single-origin beer.
And if you're a devotee of the buy-local movement?
THIS MIGHT INTRIGUE YOU
Nile, who is obviously a beer geek's beer geek, is the brewmaster (among other things). And he makes a really good point about so-called "local beer."
Most of it is not at all local.
Yes, it might be made locally.
But most of the ingredients came from someplace far away.
The grains, the hops, any of the ingredients that go into that brew, probably came from someplace else. Someplace not local.
So, typically, "local" refers only to the act of actually brewing and fermenting the beer.
SINGLE-ORIGIN BEER IS SOMETHING ELSE
Nile has not been merely brewing locally, but sourcing all of his ingredients locally.
And sometimes, if not necessarily locally, all from the same, single locale.
This is all part of what Mad Fritz calls their Terroir Series.
If you're a wine fancier, you know about terroir. It's all of the environmental factors that contribute to the character of a grape crop, and by extension, to the character of the wine. In wine, terroir is everything. In beer, Mad Fritz is doing the same thing.
For instance, Mad Fritz is in Napa. But for the Terroir Series, they've made a single-origin Sonoma Ale. It took three years of growing, sourcing, malting and brewing--but at the end of those three years came an ale 100% "of" Sonoma County. The hops, the barley, even the water, they all came from there. It's even aged in wine barrels instead of tanks.
And the result?
A "pale ale of sorts," it's a stunning beverage that has balance, veracity and complexity and (dare I say it?) joy.
"EEGAD, MAN! HOW ON EARTH DOES ONE TASTE JOY?"
I can understand how you might ask that.
And here's the thing: this is an artisanal product.
It's not a commodity that gets sold by the case in supermarkets across the country.
It has been crafted as a labor of love.
And it is sensational--IF you are open to new experiences and ideas that transcend mere commodity thinking.
THIS BEER MAY NOT BE FOR YOU
We have a friend who is adamantly and firmly committed to Budweiser In Cans only. No bottles! No other beer!
He will drink nothing else.
This beer would be an insult to his palate.
None of it is fizzy and yellow and made with rice.
If you are a voracious hop head, you might be confused by these brews. None of them are savaged with hops in the way that makes you wince.
In fact, here's how non-aggressive Mad Fritz brews are.
Honey is not a fan of overtly hopped brews. Double IPAs, which are typically muscular and bitter in their hopped-up flavor, do nothing for her palate.
We drank a Mad Fritz double IPA, and Honey found it a joyful experience.
THESE BREWS ARE ON SOME OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE MENUS IN THE NATION
We already talked about having lunch with Nile and Whitney at Michelin-starred Charter Oak.
You know simply by the Michelin star that the place is not cheap.
Mad Fritz is on the beer list at Charter Oak. They even have a custom brew, available on draft only for them, that is made with acorns.
It is delightful.
Mad Fritz is also on the beer list at the world-famous French Laundry. Thomas Keller's fabled Yountville eatery has three Michelin stars. No less an iconoclast than Anthony Bourdain (whose personal brand has been discussed here in the screed) has called the place, "The best restaurant in the world, period."
French Laundry came to Mad Fritz and asked to have a brew produced exclusively for them.
You can't buy this brew unless you're already buying dinner at over $300 a head. How's that for rare and hard-to-get?
MAD FRITZ IS NOTHING IF NOT A LABOR OF LOVE
It's an effort by two people who clearly love each other, and who produce a product born of a love for the land, the soil, the earth and the air, a love for balance, brewing, farming, sourcing, a love of finding and then finessing what nature provides into a finely crafted product that delights and inspires.
As the CoupleCo tagline says, "It's business...and it's personal."
And Mad Fritz may be the most intensely personal coupleco we've ever seen.
The business is even named for their children, Madeline and Fritz.
(Apparently Fritz, who is in elementary school, thinks having a brewery named for himself is really cool. That might sound like a recipe for having family services knocking at the door. But you also have to realize that in Napa Valley, people eat, breathe and sleep fruit and fermentation. It's all part of a life in harmony you will experience no place else. I've been to several other wine producing regions around the world. Napa is uniquely glorious.)
IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, THE BALANCE HERE IS ALSO ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE
It's about having a vision and remaining faithful without compromise.
Mad Fritz has a dynamite name and an excellent product.
It's a killer brand.
They could compromise on their mission, produce more beer, become more widely available, and make more money.
And they would end up on the slippery slope towards a commoditized product.
One of the fathers of craft brewing in the United States is Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company, whose Samuel Adams Boston Lager changed the face of US brewing.
But they've become so big that the beer hounds regard them as a commodity product--despite the fact that, in many ways, they remain faithful to their craft roots.
BUT SAM ADAMS BEER IS NO LONGER PERCEIVED AS SPECIAL
Which is unfortunate.
Because it is a brand with integrity and legacy and heritage and commitment.
Samuel Adams is presently spending a whole bunch of money trying to make themselves desirable to the craft-beer devotee.
Their TV commercials showing hopster hipsters blind-tasting their beer and remarking how good it is are almost sad.
Social proof, yes.
But one can infer a hint of desperation.
MAD FRITZ REMAINS SPECIAL
It is scarce, and rare, and unusual, and it has caché.
Those are the kinds of things that get your brand on the list at a foodie Mecca like French Laundry.
And I have a sneaking suspicion that Mad Fritz, while they may get bigger than their current nano size, will never get so big that the specialness evaporates.
Being special and being scarce have their place.
So does forging ahead without compromise.
And, especially in light of those things, you're going to require something else that keeps the fire going, and that's a relationship with the most important person in your equation: your core customer.
Maintain that relationship of specialness, and you can become legendary.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
BECAUSE YOU KNOW ANALYTICS, ARE YOU A KNOW-IT-ALL?
As the Fabulous Honey Parker and I traverse the nation in the Slow Burn Marketing Brand Response Unit, we have been doing something interesting.
We've been staying at vineyards and wineries that welcome people in recreational vehicles to stay overnight.
It's a welcome alternative to sleeping in Walmart parking lots (which is a whole subculture unto itself), or in roadside rest areas.
Granted, it's an unwritten rule that one makes a purchase from the host winery.
But unless you go crazy, it's definitely less expensive than a pay-to-stay campground, though one misses the joys of a fleet of motorhomes dispensing hordes of screaming children into the grounds.
We are willing to suffer through.
AT ONE WINERY, WE MET A PROPRIETOR WHO STARTED TALKING ADVERTISING
He found out what Honey and I do for a living, and for some reason he decided he had to start peeing all over radio.
He said, "I keep getting all these radio guys coming in here and telling me I need to be on radio.
"Why would I want to be on radio?
"You can't tell if radio's working! You can't track it!
"I have an online ad, I can look at the analytics! I can see who got it and the demographic breakdown. I can see everything about it!"
Notice, he did not say anything about being able to tell if anyone bought anything.
And if you know anything about moi?
YOU KNOW YOU DON'T WANT TO BE DISSING RADIO TO ME
With a lifetime as a lover of radio, and more than a decade in radio advertising with a long list of awards and big ROI performances, I will defend radio.
But I did not reveal any of those things to this gentlemen who was letting us stay in his vineyard.
Instead, I said, "There are two really easy ways to track radio.
"One, put a flag in the commercial. We have an eye doctor client in New Hampshire whose tagline is, 'Straight talk, better vision.' People love it. They're constantly coming into his office and repeating it to him. He doubled his new patient base in 10 months.
"So, if you can come up with a memorable and desirable flag, that's one way.
"The other way is with an irresistible offer that you're not running anywhere else. If people come in asking for the offer or if they're going online to buy it, that's a way to track it."
AND I STOPPED THERE
One reason is I didn't want to seem impertinent or come off as a know-it-all.
And the other reason is I could see his face.
He was glazing over.
He didn't want to hear it.
He had no interest in being disabused of his preconceived notions about the efficacy of radio advertising and one's ability to track it.
Too bad, really. I could have given him many more ways to effectively track radio.
I could have talked about how doing radio well is to be building a local celebrity brand.
I could have told him stories about extraordinary ROI--as high as 2,000% using the offer irresistible-offer tactic mentioned earlier.
But he was obviously the bean counter in charge.
HIS ABILITY TO COUNT BEANS IS SUPREME!
The problem is, people are not beans.
People are soft, squishy creatures with emotional engines that drive the decision making process.
And looking around his winery, it is plainly evident that he knows everything he needs to know about his business.
His branding is a mess.
He has a logo that lacks distinction. It doesn't make the name prominent in any any way, and happens to encourage the misspelling of the brand name. (Using traditional icons to represent homonyms will do that. The city of Elkhart, Indiana uses an icon of an elk head inside of a heart shape. You see that, and your brain says, "Elkheart.")
HIS WINERY VEHICLES HAVE BEEN WRAPPED
Fundamentally, that is a good plan.
But fundamentally, whoever is responsible for the wrap lacks any fundamental sense of focused design.
On the wraps, the indistinguishable logo with the hard-to-find name is practically invisible on the design.
The design is dominated by a giant face with a lurid grin.
There is a mish-mash of design elements that don't say anything about the winery, but create a jumbled mass of colors and distractions.
The only readable words are a line in giant letters that says something like, "Ya gotta try it!"
I'll bet the wrap shop designed it for free. And I'm sure that, as a beancounter, he thinks he got great value because he didn't need to hire an art director.
HE KNOWS ALL THE BEANS SO HE KNOWS ALL THE ANGLES, RIGHT?
He would benefit greatly from spending some money on someone with a proven track record who can speak to focused messages and ROI.
His branding unfocused and messy.
And he has all the answers because he hasn't bothered to ask any of the right questions to someone who knows.
He's a self-informed know-it-all.
It's very frustrating to witness.
That said, he's committed.
He's doing something that a lot of folks will never do.
HE HAS COMMITTED 100% TO HIS IMPERFECT BRANDING
He is conveying it to the public in a way that he feels makes sense.
He might be wrong about details. His ignorance is his bliss.
And he's not afraid to put the brand out into the world and push it forward.
You wouldn't believe how many people we've worked with who lack the courage to make the branding happen.
We've literally rebranded a business that was desperately in need of a makeover--only for the client to kill everything at the 11th hour after spending thousands.
One thing you have to do in this business (or any other) is know what you don't know.
But another thing you have to do is have the courage to commit and propel that baby out into the ether.
Courage and commitment can cure a lot of ills.
Even for the know-it-all who, when he wants your opinion, will give it to you.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.