John Skinner
December 14, 2013 | It's all about the wine | John Skinner

Trademarked as though we own Petrus

I always thought naming a winery would be a breeze until I owned one. Thankfully we had a couple years because it took an extraordinary effort to come up with a name that covered all the bases.
The name had to be relevant to the site, timeless, not cute and my family agreed we were not naming it Skinner! (Although I would threaten it as a default regularly in frustration). We could not really begin thinking of the name until we purchased the property so the process began on our closing date in January 2004. The wheels began to turn like crazy; I would scour all my books for great words. James Joyce’s Ulysses is my favorite. Filled with the most wonderful words, none of them were relevant. I would throw out names to my family and friends at work like “Fireside”. It made sense because a huge fire had stopped right at our properties edge years earlier. I trademarked the name, lived with it for a while then went back to the drawing board. I was in frequent discussions with a branding guru in Vancouver but ultimately realized that his specialty and talent was the “cute” model that was so popular at the time and it just did not fit with our vision for the winery. My wife Trish and I saw our opportunity as one to help raise the bar and contribute to the rapid improvement of the Okanagan wine industry. At the same time we wanted to build a legacy family business so the timelessness of the name was of paramount importance. 
I put more mental energy into the naming of our winery than probably any other aspect of this undertaking. About 18 months into this my staff discovered 500 year old pictographs on a rock face above our property. Bingo! They were not only relevant to the site but to our family. My father Sam Skinner was a renaissance man who sadly died 28 years ago at the age of 57. He was a fighter pilot by day and an archeologist in his spare time. The home I grew up in in Comox was phenomenal.  It was about 2 acres on the water and hosted an ancient Indian midden that my father was determined to thoroughly explore. I spent much of my youth shoveling dirt from our property through a screen in search of artifacts, and find them we did.  My father found a very rare stone pipe carved in the shape of a wolf’s head. It was determined that the pipe was from the post Spanish era because coastal Indians did not smoke prior to that.
This had such exciting relevance I could not wait to derive a name from these. I contacted the Penticton Indian band and was put in touch with the bands historian. He explained to me the meaning of the images and together we kicked around some naming options.  A “Spirit Walk” was what the coming of age young male painter was on when he created the images. That didn’t work for a name and certainly neither did “fish drying rack”, the most clearly defined image. My friend the historian offered a few names from their language but their sad lack of vowels rendered the words unpronounceable.
Finally, with probably 2 weeks until we had to submit for our license I found myself standing in the vineyard with my viticulturist, the lovely and talented Val Tait.  I told Val how much difficulty I was having and without missing a beat she said “you have to name it after the rocks, they are so uniquely important to the site” to which I responded “but I have to name it after the paintings”. I looked to Val and said “Painted Rock”! Well I’d been down the trademark road many times by this point and almost every common word in our language is tied up by someone as it pertains to the wine business. I wasn’t optimistic but I told Val, “let’s go to Chateau 5th Wheel (the affectionate name I gave to our onsite trailer) and google it”. Immediately Painted Rocks Winery in Wyoming came up. I thought, to hell with it, they’re tiny, I’m exhausted, and I’m just going to buy the name from them. I promptly contacted my trademark attorney and asked him to do a search and provide me with a contact name. Several hours later he called me laughing, “the company is defunct” he said. It was meant to be. It had only recently shut its doors and I would have probably paid a ridiculous amount for the name. Needless to say we are trademarked as though we own Petrus, because in the long run, in our Okanagan and Canadian context, I hope we do.


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