Sunday, February 12, 2012

Nagging Doubt Wines - a creative new B.C. label

Photo: Rob Westbury

Branding guru Bernie Hadley-Beauregard may have hit another home run with his clever label for Nagging Doubt Wines. Last summer, the label for Nagging Doubt’s Viognier 2010 won double gold at that San Francisco International Wine Competition.

This was by no means the only one of Hadley-Beauregard’s clients to garner label awards there. The website for Brandever Design, his company, has an impressive list of awards that his client wineries won last year at that competition. What sets Nagging Doubt apart is that is a new British Columbia winery that is just now releasing its wines – just two so far, totally 138 cases from the 2010 vintage. That recognition in San Francisco certainly puts wind in the winery’s sails, and likely in its sales as well.

 The Nagging Doubt brand is owned by Vancouver businessman Rob Westbury, 43, a human resources consultant, and his wife, Abbey. Rob’s winemaker and wine business coach is Mark Simpson, who recently has also introduced his own label, Siren’s Call, to the Vancouver market. Both brands are made and sold under the license of Alto Wine Group of Okanagan Falls, a winery incubator in which Mark is a partner.

 The Nagging Doubt wines have begun to appear in Vancouver restaurants as quickly as Rob can get around to staging tastings with sommeliers. As he establishes a foothold in the market, he will follow up with 500 cases of wine from the 2011 vintage, beginning with 150 cases of Chardonnay this spring.

 An Edmonton native who has lived in Vancouver since 1993, Rob has been interested in wine since he achieved the legal age to drink. He gradually developed the ambition to make wine. The “tipping point” came, he says, when he spent some time several years on a consulting assignment in San Francisco. “I remember going to Napa and Sonoma almost every weekend,” he says. “I just enjoyed going to tastings, talking about wine. I became a total wine geek. I just woke up one morning and thought, ‘I could definitely do this for a living’.”

 He won’t make a living, of course, until Nagging Doubt is established and is offering a higher volume of production. Rob’s in no rush. He is not one those who is getting into the wine business to escape a day job. He also enjoys his professional business career.

 He has shown considerable business acumen in launching Nagging Doubt, starting with retaining Brandever to counsel on brand strategy. Brandever’s previous well-known home runs include Blasted Church, Dirty Laundry and Laughing Stock.

 The name of the brand emerged from a brainstorming session between Rob and Bernie. “I started business planning for it two or three years ago,” Rob says. “Eventually, I told Bernie my story and he said: ‘This has definitely been your nagging doubt’.”

 For label design, Bernie recommended a New York artist, Dana Tanamachi, who works in chalk. The slate-coloured labels emerged that have the look of a chalkboard because that was where they were drawn in the first place. The labels, packed with information, stand out when a bottle shows up on a restaurant table. But what makes them really clever, and probably explains why Nagging Doubt won double gold, is that the labels are interactive. If you focus your smart phone onto the QR (quick response) code on the label, you are taken to a website video of the artist creating the label. It is a novel experience to sit there with a glass of wine while watching that wine’s label come to life.

 That cleverness will sell the first bottle. What is in those bottles certainly should erase any consumer’s “nagging doubt” about buying subsequent bottles of the wines.

 The future strategy is being built on sourcing grapes in the Okanagan under contractual or leasing arrangements, and eventually acquiring some property. Making the wines at Alto Wines relieves Rob of the need to invest a lot of money in the wine project now, before he has money to invest.

 While the wines are made primarily by Mark, Rob has substantial input in specifying the wine styles desired. “I definitely like European-style wines … a little more complexity, less just fruit-focused,” Rob says. “I especially like crispness. I like wines that have a good acidity. There are a number of reasons why but the biggest reason is that a wine is best when it pairs with food.”

 Here are notes on the two wines currently in the market or available through the Nagging Doubt website.

Nagging Doubt Viognier 2010 ($23.99). This varietal is a one-off for Nagging Doubt, which will switch to Chardonnay for its next white release. In 2010 Mark and Rob came across some Viognier that was too good to walk away from. This wine is crisp and tangy, with citrus and herbal aromas and flavours. The alcohol is only 10.7% but this is not an unripe Viognier. It is well balanced and refreshing and is the sort of white that calls for a plate of oysters. 90.
Nagging Doubt The Pull 2010 ($29.90). This is a blend of 44% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 8% each of Petit Verdot and Malbec. The concept behind the name is that “the pull” of wine overcame Rob’s nagging doubts about getting into the business. This wine, while youthful, is drinking well already but will cellar well for several years. It begins with vibrant aromas of cherry and other red berries with a hint of mocha. That probably reflects the barrel aging; but Mark and Rob use oak subtly and lightly, so as not to submerge the spicy cherry and blackberry flavours. Rob says that Saint-Émilion is the template for the style of this elegant red. 90.


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