Michael D. (D is for Deere) Colhoun will be the first to tell you success in the wine business comes from what is in the bottle.
However, it does not hurt to have a story to go along with the wine.
The most common wine hook/stories are well-known names. Hollywood stars and personalities like Wayne Rogers, The Smothers Brothers and Fess Parker have been in the wine business. Race care driver Mario Andretti is another. Francis Ford Coppola is another. There are wine personalities like Robert Young, Robert Mondavi, Jess Jackson, and Jerry Lohr.
For Michael and Mary Calhoun, John Deere is the story they connect to their Landmark Vineyards wines from Sonoma County, Calif. Landmark’s more popular wines are tied directly to the Deere heritage:
– Damaris Reserve Chardonnay is named after John Deere’s wife, Damaris. The founder of Landmark in Sonoma Valley is Colhoun’s mother, Damaris Deere Wiman Ethridge. Mike and Mary’s daughter is named Damaris.
– Landmark’s Grand Detour Pinot Noir is named after Grand Detour, Ill., where as an enterprising young blacksmith, John Deere set up his first shop and used a discarded saw blade to forge his first steel plow.
– Landmark’s Overlook Chardonnay is named after a bluff where John Deere’s son, Charles, built a home in Moline, Ill, headquarters of Deere & Company. The hilltop overlooked the growing city of Moline and the family business, the John Deere Plow Works. Overlook served as home to four generations of Deere descendants.
– The moniker on Landmark’s Steel Plow Syrah speaks for itself.
The family tie between Landmark wines and the man who invented the steel plow almost did not happen.
“The family was not really interested in using the family name with the winery,” said Colhoun.
“It was my wife Mary who insisted. My wife is a very savvy public relations professional. As someone outside the Deere family, she understood that the story was important and compelling, and for us to tell it,” said Colhoun.
“Marketing wine cannot be about only sugar and acids. People want to taste and enjoy wine and they also enjoy a story,” said Colhoun.
Landmark’s tasting room is full of Deere merchandise.
“The John Deere story is compelling. John Deere and Johnny Appleseed are part of American agriculture often mentioned in the same sentence.
“Wine has everything to do with agriculture and my family’s history is in agriculture.”
“John Deere is part of America’s heritage and when people connect Landmark wines with Deere, they feel like the wine is part of America’s agricultural heritage.”
But does it sell wine? For those who visit the Landmark tasting room, it helps, believes Colhoun. Away from the winery and without hearing the story, he doubts it.
“However, there must be something to the Deere name because there are girls running around New York City wearing pink farmer caps with a Deere logos on them, and they have never been on a tractor,” he said.
“There was a blacksmith named Deere who I’d say did pretty well in business. As his great, great, great grandson, I hope I can continue to be as successful in the wine business as he was selling plows and what came afterward.”