What’s in a Name?

Ever since Wal-Mart, the world's largest retail chain, announced it was teaming up with Gallo Winery to produce wines in the $2-$5 range, wine blogs have been abuzz with suggestions for the name on the label: Chateau Traileur Parc, NASCARbernet, Chef Boyardeaux, I Can't Believe It's Not Vinegar and Nasti Spumante. Food pairing ideas have ranged from white meat (possum) to red meat (squirrel). Wal-Mart’s entrée to the wine business and the blogosphere’s response brings up an interesting question: How do wineries name their wines?

With the steady growth of imported wine in the U.S., wine marketers are creating some wine names to take the intimidation factor out of wine selection for the younger purchasers. In response to the recent increase supply of wine grapes, the glut hit the market worldwide.

With the limitations and expense of storage space, some wineries have been putting more of their grapes into drink-now wines and creating names and labels they hope will encourage newer wine drinkers to notice and select their bottles from the shelves.

Following the success of the Australian import, Yellow Tail Shiraz is the more recent distribution of wines with whimsical names such as Jackaroo Big Red, Jindalee Shiraz, Little Penguin and Red Bicyclette, as well more humorous and “bold” names such as Fat Bastard (an experimental Chardonnay that had been left on the lees in barrels for some time thus getting a heavier-than-usual dose of the barrel flavors), Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Santa Barbara wine names have come from history, nature, goats and card games. Norm Yost, the owner of and winemaker for Flying Goat Cellars, says he selected the name because two pygmy goats were his solution for taming the massive and thorny blackberry bushes in the backyard that needed to be curtailed.

“Pondering and agonizing over a name to reflect the wines and the brand, ‘Yost Wines,’ just didn’t seem to do it,” Yost explains. “I wanted to project fun, enjoyment and happiness! How do people name wineries? Hmm. They put their name on the label, their vineyard, their chateau – their children. My kids inspired me and made me laugh with their unrestrained spiral loops, flipper turns and straight-legged leaps. Their spirit of enthusiasm was how I felt about winemaking.”

Bill Wathen and Dick Doré named their Foxen Winery in memory of Captain William Benjamin Foxen, Dick's great-great-grandfather and an English sea captain who came to Santa Barbara in the early 1800s and purchased Rancho Tinaquaic, originally a Mexican Land Grant that totaled nearly 9,000 acres and comprised most of what is now Foxen Canyon. Captain Foxen adopted the distinctive "anchor" as his ranch cattle brand, which has become a trademark of the Foxen Winery that makes its home on the 2,000-acre Rancho Tinaquaic, which remains in family hands.

Meanwhile, Kathy Joseph named her Fiddlehead Cellars after the botanical term “fiddlehead,” the coiled tip of a fern that emerges into an elegant leaf.

“There are many parallels between the Fiddlehead fern and our Fiddlehead Cellars,” Joseph explains. “The Fiddlehead fern emerges once a year, just like our new vintage wine releases. Like our wines, the fern has a natural beauty and uniqueness rarely found in today’s commercial world. And like our grapes, the Fiddlehead fern has a delicacy that is only harvested at one perfect moment each year.”

For Roger Wisted’s Blackjack Ranch Wine, the name is a credit to the business that made the winery possible. In 1989, Wisted invented, patented, copyrighted and trademarked “California Blackjack,” a game that manages to avoid state laws that ban the game “21,” aka blackjack, in California, except for Native American Indian casinos.

“My game is played to twenty-two points and a ‘Natural’ is two aces, rather than ace, ten-card,” says Wisted. “House-banked games are illegal in California so players compete against each other, instead of the casino itself.”

Wisted says California Blackjack has been licensed to card clubs and casinos throughout California for the past 17 and has generated hundreds of casino jobs, more than $4 million annually for municipalities where the game is played, and tens of millions in revenue for the casinos. The earnings were enough, he says, to enable him “to pursue my lifelong dream of planting a vineyard and building a winery as a sole proprietorship.”

I Am Who I Am

Many California wines are eponymous, defined as “one for whom or which something is named.” This is in part because vineyard owners and winemakers are proud to be personally associated with their product.

A recent wine-food pairing dinner celebrated the latest release from Laetitia Winery, a high-end Bordeaux-style blend with a predominant Cabernet Sauvignon base known as Nadia. The wine, which was unveiled for its first public tasting at a winemaker wine-pairing dinner at Patrick's Side Street Café in Los Olivos where each course with a different Laetitia or Barnwood wine, is named after Nadia Wellisz, the executive vice president and co-owner of Laetitia Vineyard & Winery and Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, where she works full time as winery and vineyard director.

Born in London, Nadia’s heritage has the depth of her eponymous cabernet blend. Her father, Selim Zilkha, was born in Baghdad, moved to Syria at one month of age, and became a banking phenom in Paris. He moved to London, where he left banking to found the hugely successful Mothercare retailing chain. Nadia was born there a short time later.

Nadia received her bachelor’s degree in English literature from University College, London, was a financial consultant at Merrill Lynch in New York City, and in 1986 moved to Los Angeles with her husband, Dr. Tadzio Wellisz. Her father bought the Laetitia and Barnwood wineries in 1998 and, three years later, he enticed Nadia to bring her business acumen, people skills, creativity (she is a talented painter) and love of wine to Laetitia.

Nadia is as much a credit to its winemaker – Eric Hickey – and vineyard manager – Lino Bozzano – as it is to its namesake. The grapes come from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range of Santa Barbara county, at 3,200 feet above sea level. Just as Nadia’s diversity of experience and skills are so well-suited for her winery directorship, the diverse growing conditions in different parts of the vineyard’s mountain terroir are perfect for the Bordeaux and Rhône varietals grown in the area.

Name that Label

Now that you have the background on wine names, try your own hand at it. Washington Wine Company’s new winery needs a name, and the owners are asking the public to find a fitting one. The winery naming contest is run at www.washingtonwinecompany.com. The contest's winner will receive two cases of Washington Wine Company’s best wine each year for a decade.