I’m always excited to meet with small business owners in Oregon and talk about what makes them so passionate about their endeavors. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with some great people in the wine industry. However, after doing a few print interviews, we at Tesla Trips realized it’d be more fun, interesting, and informative for the visitors to our blog if we began conducting video interviews. For the next short while, we will be taking a brief hiatus from interviews. When we begin again, we will be conducting only video interviews. This will be our final print interview.
Back in February, I had the pleasure of sitting down with David Barringer, the co-founder and owner of Naked Winery, a staple in the Gorge for their approachable wines and welcoming atmosphere. Even on a cold February morning, the tasting room downtown was more than inviting. Located right in the heart of downtown Hood River, Naked Winery is very accessible, always busy, and always fun. It is one of the social hubs that makes up downtown.
C: An age old question, red or white?
D: Both! I cycle them around; lately it’s been white.
C: You’re originally from Silicon Valley. What brought you up here to Hood River and the wine culture?
D: I began to hang out at wineries was doing whatever I could to learn more about wine. Winemaker’s will share and can learn a lot especially when you work for free, ha.
C: Ha, I’m sure there is! What was the connection to the Gorge and Hood River?
D: My wife’s sister lived in Hood River, and we’d come up here to visit her. It didn’t take long for me to realize it’s an amazing place when you go outside. We moved out here in 1999, and we have not regretted that decision.
C: Had you been playing around with the idea of starting a winery when you moved to Hood River?
D: No, but our realtor told us when we we were looking at property it had great potential for grape growing. That was the genesis of starting Naked Winery. Our realtor who was actually making wine, and one thing led to another. What had started as a hobby was now becoming a full on business.
C: Wow, that’s great! About when did Naked Winery start?
D: So the first wine we made back in ‘99 was still kind of [a] hobby. We didn’t release anything for the public until 2005. That was our 2002 Merlot and our 2003 Chardonnay. With our naming strategy of Naked, we figured if the wine wasn’t really good people would think of it as a gimmick.
C: Obviously one of the most famous things isn’t just the names of the wines, but also the marketing and branding of Naked Winery. How did all of that come about?
D: My business partner Dave and my wife, Jody started Naked Winery. Jody wanted to start another company. She had started Gorge Gifts and just finished co-writing the book, Kidding Around the Gorge. She wanted to start a winery. I wanted to start one, too, but I didn’t want to be like every other winery out there. I wanted to focus on the customer experience vs. the winemaker. We said, “Let’s make it fun!” We thought about our experiences when we go out drinking with friends the last thing we talk about is, “What kind of yeast they used?” Because if you’re talking about yeast, no one is getting lucky, haha. Then we started coming up with some of the names for Naked. So, when you come into a Winery tasting experience you can taste wines out of order, and it’s going to be okay. At Naked Winery we say, “You can taste whatever you wish.”
Dave and his wife Jody from one of the Club Naked Events, “Speakeasy.”
C: Would you say a lot of the people coming into Naked are traditional wine drinkers or new ones? Are they generally a younger age group?
D: My target demographic was that younger 25-35 range originally. I would say most of our customers are probably 40-104. The people who buy Naked wines are familiar with wine and are comfortable with our humor. We’ll have younger crowds coming in and folks who are new to wine drinking as well. We also serve beer, which creates an open environment for the wine curious. Maybe the beer drinker will say, “Okay, I’ll try wine.” It’s a comfortable place to try wine because there’s no pressure. At Naked Winery there is no wrong answer for our wine. You can say it tastes like watermelon Jolly Ranchers!
D: We won’t come back and say, “No… It actually tastes like tar.” One of the best guest experiences for me was when a guy said, “Dave going to your winery is like going to your best friend’s house. You can sit, relax. You don’t have to be anyone you’re not.” He also said going to the normal wineries was like going to your mom’s best friend’s house. Still a great experience, but you have to be on your best behavior.
C: A little more formality…
D: Yeah, a slight difference that makes a huge difference in the experience.
C: What are some of your favorite things about the wine community in the Gorge?
D: One of my favorite things is the sharing. Going from “I need a tank!” to someone putting their tank on a flatbed and driving the tank over. Then getting it off the back of the truck and helping you the entire process. People in the community help that way. Let’s say we’re facing some kind of technical challenge, with a particular vintage. I can go to my buddy Bob Lorkowski at Cascade Cliffs who has been doing it longer and I can say, “Hey, Bob, what do you do when this kind of thing happens?” I really like the way how all of us are on the same team.
C: Yes, talking to the other winemakers in Hood River, you really get the feeling of an open winemaking community.
D: Right, it makes sense. If you really want to do well, then let’s help each other out.
C: Besides the great wine, what do you recommend for people coming out to the Gorge?
D: I recommend for all travelers to come in and get a glimpse of Naked Winery. If you have the time, walk up and down Oak Street. Then hang out by the waterfront and enjoy a glass of wine. Kick back, relax and enjoy the outdoor lifestyle of Hood River. Get sweaty!
C: Definitely! Hood River is active as you want it to be!
C: Not only is Naked Winery a great place to come and relax, but it’s perfect for groups, too.
D: I’ll even say you may find yourself in a new group here. Quite often people come and don’t know each other. There may be one couple from Chicago that comes in, and they meet a couple from Atlanta here, and the couples end up leaving and getting dinner together at one of the great restaurants around here.
C: Are the eleven states that Naked Winery is in right now mostly on the West coast?
D: No, we’re in Georgia, South Carolina, Maine and even South Dakota.
C: How many tasting rooms does Naked Winery have?
C: What is Naked Winery’s connection to South Dakota?
D: A person came through and really enjoyed the concept, but lived in South Dakota. He was building a hotel and was going to feature three different wineries. He says, “One of them is yours, is that okay?” I say sure, and then he says that he is going to set up a wine distribution company. He asks if I want to be a part of it, and I say sure. Then he says that he is going to set up multiple tasting rooms that feature only Naked Wines, and I say, “Uh…show me a business plan.” But then he showed me the business plan, and it was solid. He flew his whole team out here, and they learned how we operate from us. We set up the first one, and it worked. We used it as a test, then we launched the second one. South Dakota has a large amount of tourism like Hood River because of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Our two tasting rooms are located on the main paths to these destinations. People all over the U.S. get to see our wine and it’s a powerful tool that feeds our e-commerce.
C: We’ve touched on it a little bit, but what is one of your favorite customer experiences?
D: This is a local one. This was a great-grandmother [who] was in our tasting room celebrating her 92nd birthday, and she lived in The Dalles. She had kept driving by our sign, and she asked her daughter to take her for her 92nd birthday. It was so fantastic! We had them in our tasting room, and she loved our humor. That’s one of the things that we share […], you don’t stop being romantic and fun when you get older. Older folks still want to go out and have a good time; they still want to have fun.
C: What is something that you’re most excited about right now for your company? And the industry? What’s also something you see coming up in the future?
D: I’m going to turn that a little bit and the most exciting for me about Naked Winery is our people. The fact that we can employ people. They earn it, but we have good wages and healthcare. In today’s world, and especially Hood River, it’s hard to get a job with a decent paycheck and benefits. That’s what drives me, and that’s what I love about our company is that we can provide opportunities. The other thing that is exciting for me is our “Outdoor Vino” brand. Which is in a plastic bottle, recyclable, uses less water to produce, doesn’t affect the taste of the wine. There are so many great things that the brand provides for our customers. Even at the high end with our Oh! Orgasmic Wines, we can’t make enough of it. These are spendy bottles that retail from $40 to $100. I think what has happened over the years is our reputation not just as a brand, but for the quality of our wines has greatly increased. Over time people have gotten more comfortable with our wines.
C: That brings up something I meant to ask earlier, and that is the different brands that Naked Winery has and is associated with. How did those come from Naked Winery?
D: Outdoor Vino started as a Marketing experiment taking everything we do in Hood River. I looked it as the extreme wine on the go, with windsurfing, snowboarding, mountain climbing, and everything in the Gorge. However […] some of our team […] said, “That’s so 1980’s. You’re too old. You don’t get it.” Two gals here, Kelly and Emily, created the Outdoor Vino brand and imbued the brand with more of a hiking, doing things outside, kayaking and camping image. Something a bit more down to earth, but still outgoing. Instead of extreme wine country, we model some of our design off of national park signs.
C: Yes, so it’s not as out on the edge and the fringe. Less Red Bull crowd and more outgoing, but practical.
D: Yeah, for example Kelly’s mom goes kayaking. This is the perfect wine for her to put in her kayak. As opposed to what I was thinking.
C: Yeah, right before you jump out of a plane pop open some outdoor vino, throw it back and live wild.
D: They said I was wrong, and I was smart enough to listen to them. Like I said earlier, that’s why I love it here. We have people who are fantastic at what they do and believe in the brand our wines as much as we do.
C: Any things in the larger wine industry that you think are either good or bad?
D: Yeah, well I think it’s already started for us, it’s ok to make and drink Sweet Wines . If you look at the Italian wine consumption, it’s gone down by almost 40% over the last 15 years. You could attribute that to the fact that a lot of the Italian wineries aren’t making sweet wines like they used to. Another way to look at it all great wines don’t have to be dry. Like our Orgasmic Barbera, it’s sweet. It’s not an inexpensive wine. It’s just a really good Barbera- we just don’t ferment it all of the way. I think you’re going to see the industry embrace sweet wines.
C: Yeah, why deny yourself of good wine!
C: Thanks for sitting down with us this morning, David.
D: My pleasure. Thank you for this opportunity.