Some wineries play it safe – with their marketing, their branding and their wines.
But that’s never been the case at Tank Garage Winery. James Harder started the winery in an old Calistoga gas station in 2014. “We’re not bound by anything, and we’re a Napa winery starting out of a garage so let’s act more like a garage band, and we pursue what interests us, what piques our curiosity.”
To stay true to that garage band, er, winery vision, the team at Tank never makes the same wine twice, and then each wine has its own, unique label, branding and vision. “People say ‘We love this wine – why don’t you make it again?’” Harder says. “You don’t write the same song twice – you just evolve.
“All the wines discontinue themselves,” says Ed Feuchuk, general manager at Tank.
Each week, the team at Tank meets to go over tastings of barrels and to mull over ideas. “We are cellar rats at heart, and we say ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if,’ and ‘How about that?” Harder says.
That’s how Trailer Park Pretty came together. “We had been making rosés for a while, and then we started talking about White Zinfandel, which started out as a blush wine then got bastardized, so we said ‘What if we made this nuanced White Zin?’”
So, then, the name, Trailer Park Pretty, was a play on the low expectations some people have for a White Zinfandel. But to pull off the marketing photos, they needed a trailer. A neighbor had an Airstream so they asked if they could take photos, and within a day, the whole team from the winery showed up with some inflatables from Target and Walmart, and they did the shoot.
“Fortunately, one of our team members showed up with their hair in curlers,” Feuchuk says.
“There’s no casting for models – we couldn’t afford to,” Harder says. “We always use the phrase ‘two turntables and a microphone,’ and that’s all we have. When you don’t have a big hammer, you’re forced to have a sharper nail.”
Harder keeps a songbook of ideas that he writes in – snatches of songs, bits of conversation…things that could turn into a wine. The first time the Tank team worked on a pét-nat sparkling wine. “Our consulting winemaker Tim (Milos) and I were out looking at a vineyard, with an unusual grape variety, and then as we drove back, we were wondering what the heck to do with it, and we said ‘What if we made a pét-nat? We’ve never made one before,’” Harder says.
Pét-Nat is the sparkling wine method that predates the Champagne method, and it’s a more ancestral type of winemaking. So, that got Harder thinking of the old 80s band, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark so that’s how Ancestral Maneuvers in the Dark was born. “We’re flying in the dark, trying to figure out how to make these wines,” Harder says.
Then, for the label, they decided to use glow in the dark ink. “We called all of these printers within 300 miles until we finally found one,” Feuchuk says.
The name works on so many levels, Feuchuk says. “The band (OMD) was featured in Pretty in Pink, and the wine itself is this electric pink color,” he says.
Their latest release, It Was All a Dream, was inspired by the boots that everyone wears in the cellar – Blundstone boots, a Chelsea boot brand created in 1870 in Tasmania. The wine itself, a Shiraz blend, was created in collaboration with Blundstone, and for every $70 bottle sold, $2 will be donated to the The Roots Fund through Tank Garage Winery’s program, Tank Cares, and The Roots Fund creates opportunities for people who traditionally haven’t been able to get involved in the wine industry.
For the label, artist D. White II used large pieces of leather sent from the factory in Australia, which was then hand-painted. The work itself will be on display at the Napa winery. It was a dream, Harder says, to work with Blundstone. “They’re the Air Jordans of winemaking, and everyone wears them at harvest time,” Feuchuk says.
The Tank team is already working on their next releases. “Think about some bands and how their first album was recorded in a buddy’s basement or a garage, and then the band blows up, but even with all the best sound producers and studios, their next album doesn’t have the same magic as their original,” says Harder.
“The first album comes from a place of honesty and authenticity,” he adds. “It would be very easy to just farm out a bunch of concepts and labels, and we’ve had some really nice presentations from (marketing) firms, but it doesn’t feel like it was made in a garage. We never want to lose that passion and gravitas – we want to keep our garage mentality by staying in the garage.”
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