The Art of the Sale

I spent last week in Southern California, riding alongside our brokers and working the market. Each visit is precious chance for me to showcase my wines, sharing the goofy anecdotes that make winemaking personal, unpredictable, and fun. But the wine that most lends itself to storytelling is the “art label” estate pinot noir from our own Torrey Hill Vineyard. We all know there is as much artistry in salesmanship as in winemaking. Today I offer you a privileged behind the scenes peek into the often-murky world of wine sales. Wine Buyer: “Wow that label is awesome! Which of your kids made it?”

Me: “Actually, all three kids collaborate. My son draws the car, and the girls do the dog and most of the handwriting.”

Translation: “Clearly, you don’t have kids of your own. Here’s a thought experiment for you: would you rather have a tooth extracted using only local anesthesia or cajole three elementary aged siblings into cooperating on a 6 inch by 6 inch scrap of paper? I’ve got more psychotherapists on retainer than popcorn kernels crushed in my seat cushions. When my future teenage children cry foul at being the least loved, as evidenced by imbalances in 10 years of wine label design, at least I’m presumptively armed.”

Wine Buyer: “Cool big rig.”

Me: “Yeah, my son is a car nut. Every year the label features a vehicle that is not a Toyota Sienna minivan. My son is too embarrassed to draw my actual daily driver.”

Translation: “It gives me great pleasure to remind my son that the aforesaid minivan will be his when he turns 16. I’ve contemplated adding custom airbrush flames, just to draw additional attention to his personal torment. Maybe I’ll paint it lipstick pink, like an Avon incentive car. I mention this often.”

Me: “And every label also includes our beloved pound dog, Dexter.”

Wine Buyer: “Cute. He looks the same every year.”

Translation: “That fu%&ing dog. Not since General Eisenhower invaded Normandy has a decision been more fraught than who gets to draw the dog. Tantrums, fights, and accusations of nepotism accompany this annual family ritual, validating the well-known dictum that all family traditions suck. To mitigate the parenting joy that IS twin-twin competition, we instilled a proclamation: she who draws Dexter shall not dictate design. But when Lily took design lead in 2014, she cried mutiny since Bruno’s giant big rig became the de facto design. She sulked anyway. It’s a middle child thing. And P.S. Mr. I-don’t- have-kids-wine buyer: NEVER tell twins their dog art is indistinguishable.”

Wine Buyer: “So you mean the label is different every year.”

Me: “Yup.”

Translation: “Every spring we submit a new design for TTB approval. I invite pain; it builds grit. Just for fun, ask me about the time our compliance officer “forgot” to upload our label art until my mid-June phone call jolted her into frantic action. That’ll tie your colon in a yoga twist. Don’t mess with the TTB. Enough said.”

Wine Buyer: “Your kids must love seeing their art on the label when it’s done.”

Me: [blank stare]

Translation: [blank stare]

Wine Buyer: “What will happen when your kids get older?”

Me: “I suppose the art will mature with the kids, maybe into some complicated black and white line drawings. Someone once suggested we stockpile a bunch of labels while the kids are still young.”

Translation: “I barely manage this once a year. You expect me to man up and repeat? I’m actually considering outsourcing the job to India, where kids would be grateful for the artistic outlet, and the work. Reference above [blank stare].”

Me: “Thanks for taking the time to taste with me today. Just for fun, I’ll offer you a sneak peek of the 2015 label art.”

Wine Buyer: “Is Dexter floating- in a glass of wine?”

Translation: “Either we incite the wrath of the animal rights activists for featuring a drunk, trapped, legless animal or CPS after the kids attack each other with magic markers. I’d rather keep the family peace and celebrate the return of the magical, levitating dog. He’s a throwback to 2012 Dexter. Plus, the flag will play well in Texas. I’m just wondering if we ought to add a warning to the label: ‘not drawn to scale.’”


A history of the "Art Labels"

2012 - Year 1 (Dexter with no legs)



2013 - Year 2 (Dexter has very visible legs)

61494_4_13 PN RRV F-01


Year 3 - 2014 (wow - that's a big truck!)



Year 4 - 2015 (Uh-oh, where did Dexter's legs go??)

TH Label 2015