“Dependable” is Thy Name

In your heart of hearts, in the dialogue that you have with yourself, when you clear away the layers of nuance from your relationships and take off the mask that protects you from the theatre of life, what are you really looking for?

You’re looking for trust. 

At the end of the day, I believe the greatest truth we can tell ourselves (and believe) is that we go through life seeking little else other than the ability to find and place trust around us.

I trust that my wife, my family, my friends and my job are going to be there when I need them in all of the glorious peaks and valleys that is life.  In return, I strive to excel in providing equal or greater dependability in the quid pro quo tapestry that makes up our bonds.

Dependability is at the core of trust.  I have an expectation for what will happen in a situation based on the trust that I have placed, currency that has been built-up based upon a thousand different actions (and interactions).

Trust can be hard won, and sometimes easily granted, but either way, when the unspoken dependability we have come to rely upon is violated, trust is difficult to regain.

Likewise, without trust and dependability, risk-taking becomes a very extreme option because we don’t have the safety net that trust and dependability provides elsewhere in our life.

Granted, this high-minded pop philosophical conversation is best enjoyed in a dorm room with a girl that wears Lisa Loeb glasses and quotes Nietzsche, with a fourth glass of Chianti from a bottle encased in straw, however, it becomes important, particularly when viewed through the filter of marketing.


Brand development has come of age over the last 30 years transposing these very human emotions onto the things that we buy and consume.  These so-called brand attributes are an attempt at anthropomorphizing otherwise commodity based products, building trust and dependability, while reducing risk.

Brand development is a particularly contentious topic in the wine business, as well.  Everybody says they have built a brand, but very few have.  In fact, very few wineries have a leg to stand on when it comes to brand.  They may have an image, they may have mindshare, they may offer an experience, but that doesn’t equal trust and it certainly doesn’t equal dependability.

No, in fact, real brands in the wine business are often the source of derision, for, being, well, dependable … and … trustworthy. 

In my opinion two nationally distributed brands – Toad Hollow Chardonnay and Castle Rock Pinot Noir represent a level of dependability, I have trust with these brands.  Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay is a real, true, trustworthy brand that also represents dependability.  From purchase to purchase I know what to expect.


In normal circumstances, under a different set of economic realities, most wine enthusiasts forgo a trusted relationship with wine and assume the risk (and potential reward) that often comes with something that is unknown and otherwise not trusted.

Wine lovers seek the discovery aspect of wine that marks a potential disappointment as an adventure, a risk from seeking out the unknown.  It may not be good, but it will certainly be interesting.  If it’s great, then what a journey from acquisition to consumption.


Unfortunately, it would seem that our risk tolerance is changing.  It’s not unfortunate for me necessarily because as a consumer I’m fickle and fly with the winds of change (and the vagaries of my pocketbook), but it’s particularly unfortunate for wineries that are ill-suited to deal in this type of dependability-oriented purchase environment.

What happens when we stop risking disappointment and start seeking out trust?

Buried near the end of a nice, long article on luxury wine from the Press-Democrat, was this quote from Constellation Brands’ Lou Applebaum, “People are moving a little bit more toward trusted brands that have more legitimacy and more history with people … there seems to be less experimentation.”

Blackstone Winery, also a Constellation brand, is rolling out an advertising campaign heralding this very notion of dependability.  The tag line reads, “Here’s to the things in life you can count on.”

In fact, Blackstone, taking this risk mitigation notion one step further, is offering a money back guarantee on the wine.  If you don’t like it, they’ll refund your money.

Having been very familiar with the Blackstone brand, but never having tried based on it being too reliable in previous times, I picked up a bottle of their flagship Merlot, Cabernet and Pinot Noir.  You know what?  While certainly not profound, for $8.99 these are very serviceable wines, perhaps even dependable.

According to the New York Times article in which the Blackstone campaign was highlighted, “the goals is (to) offer reassurance they will not be wasting money because the product being advertised is dependable and/or a value.”  According to Natasha Hayes, a group marketing director at Constellation, “everyone’s watching their pennies a little bit more what we’re finding right now is more of a backwards step: ‘I don’t want to discover; I want to stick with brands that are trusted and true.’ ”

I have no doubt that we’re in a climate of controlling risks, finding certainty, seeking to reinforce and expand that one goal we have for ourselves in life – finding trust.  What I am uncertain of, however, is what does this mean for the wine industry when a desire for “discovery” turns into a desire for familiarity.  Trust me when I say:  I don’t think it’s good.

*Note* Thanks to Fred Schwartz for the NYT’s Blackstone article pointer