When asked about what makes for a great brand’s name, this story immediately comes to comes to mind, filed in the most creative department…

A vineyard is a Hard Row To Hoe, and no one knows that better than Don and Judy Phelps of Manson, Washington. So much so, in fact that that’s what they ended up calling their winery.

  • Don’s been on my radar screen, because he asked to be a Facebook friend. At the time I thought, “what an intriguing name for a winery.” I got it, having watched so many of my friends toiling against all odds…
  • Then he wrote a comment on my wine blog, again drawing attention to himself.

At the time I thought, well, he got me on Facebook; and every time I see him being thoughtful, I’ve thought about helping him to publicize his story, still not really knowing it.

  • Then he took the next step for visibility. He commented on my wine blog.

I have to admit that I don’t have a lot of people coming to my site in droves to argue with any of my points. I don’t write in a provocative way that would elicit emotions about issues. I’m more of a storyteller… I’m in PR. That should explain a lot. I enjoy people’s stories and getting them the visibility they deserve; especially when they’ve made it a point to be kind in the process of their connecting. And there he is… Don Phelps, most days on Facebook, where I spend a good amount of time, when I’m not creating on my own end.

Call it relief from typing the letters off my keyboard. Yeah, this is my current Keyboard. I can’t keep buying them and throwing them out when these most used letters are gone. Now, white off is the favorite junk in my junk draw; although I’ve yet to perfect using it.

So, I finally asked Don Phelps for his story… Here it is, and it’s very marketing driven.

[Q]  When did you begin in the wine business?

[A]  In 2006, Judy and I opened Balsamroot Winery at beautiful Lake Chelan, in Washington state. It was successful from the start, but we soon realized that visitors were having a really difficult time remembering our name. It came from a local wildflower, and we thought it was a great name.

[Q]  It sounds great. Being from Maine, I completely get Balsam, but I can see that if I were from new York City, I wouldn’t relate well to Balsam… You obviously changed from Balsamroot Winery to Hard Roe to Hoe. How did that happen?

[A]  After attending a marketing seminar in the spring of 2008, titled Differentiate or Die, we made the decision to re-brand our winery with a name that had a story behind. This way, visitors would remember the name and then be able to tell their friends about it as well getting viral marketing involved.

[Q]  What was your process?

[A]  After having some research conducted at the local museum, we found several local stories of history and selected one that they came up with… Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards. Now one might think the story was going to be about farming with a name like that, but history added a twist to this double entendre.

[Q] Okay, you’ve got my attention….

[A]  To set the background, you need to know that Lake Chelan is a 50 plus mile, long lake with the upper half of it being essentially roadless. In 1937, at a point about 40 miles up the lake, there was a large copper mine opened with some 450 men employed at the mine. This made it the largest copper mine in the country at that time. All traffic to and from the mine had to pass through a landing known as Lucerne, on the shores of the lake.

In the late 30s the construction at the Grand Coulee Dam was coming to a close and so some ladies, that had been making a living there during the construction years, decided to move into an old hotel that was located about a half mile uplake from Lucerne. They offered their professional services to the miners. The miners, being nice guys, wanted to support the new business enterprise; but due to the lack of a road or trail, they had no way to visit the hotel. Seeing this as opportunity, a local man from the town of Manson, took his row boat up to Lucerne and started a shuttle service, so it was a Hard Row to Hoe.

[Q]  OMG… I just got the double entendre.. This is so funny… something I’ll never forget! Good going with your story… Continue…

[A]  This enterprise thrived for several years until one of the housewives living at Lucerne got fed up with the brothel being there, stole the rowboat one day and went over and burned the place down.

[Q] Good ending of that one, but I hope she got to keep her man. Meanwhile… your winery…

[A]  Hard Row to Hoe has captured the theme behind this story to decorate the tasting room with adult themed wall paper (discreet), wine names, label design, etc. We actually have one of the iron bed frames from the brothel in the tasting room, because it didn’t burn when the building went up in flames.

Some of our wine names and labels include Hard Row to Hoe, Shameless Hussy, Nauti Buoy, Double Dip, Afternoon Delight, Seduction, Mis-di-Miner, S&M, Coquette, Good in Bed, and Burning Desire, with each name tying in with the story.

[Q]  Very memorable and fun for the adults who are visiting, I’m sure. Tell me about your social media efforts, because that’s how I’ve come to know you. You’re very active, and in a really great way.

[A]  As part of our re-branding, we’ve made an extensive time commitment to social media

  • Creating both Facebook (Hard Row to Hoe Vineyard) and Twitter (@hardrow) accounts
  • Creating personal accounts and building a base of friends and followers (several thousand to date)
  • We decided that the goal and purpose of social media was not to push sales, but to further the brand recognition of the winery.
  • We wanted to not only talk about things that are happening at the winery, but to also talk about activities throughout the region
  • Shared our press recognition – as well as other business (including wineries)
  • Writing guest blog posts
  • Freely sharing information with other winery (or prospective) owners
  • Commenting on other posts and blogs
  • And in general, always trying to promote the Lake Chelan area as a great place to visit and do wine tasting

[Q]  What a great story and immense commitment. One of the marketing concepts that we learn about in wine marketing 101, is whatever the name is, stick with it. I think you’ve proven that to be wrong when it comes to absolutes. I l-o-v-e it. My decision to change a name in a project got me a B+ instead of my “A.” It was a good story, but the two professors teaching the class were aghast that I’d do such a thing. Their winery name was horrible, so I did what you did. The story behind my story was great, a return to original owner – a family member. But, they didn’t like my approach. I always knew they were wrong and I was robbed… Now you’re brand is doing well under its new name…

[A]  It was a significant decision to do the re-brand, because it meant investing considerable resources into the effort, but we wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. The re-branding effort has been very successful with steady growth, since it was undertaken and converted the critics from “are they crazy?” to “it was brilliant!”

I wonder if I could revisit that “B+” that pulled me from a 4.0 GPA? Nah… those two guys are long gone, as are their own winery marketing efforts.



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