In 1980, Briton Tony Cartlidge pioneered something different with the launch of Cartlidge & Browne, and shook up the winemaking establishment for good. Today, the story of how he built a wine brand from scratch is being told to a whole new generation of wine drinkers who can identify with his entrepreneurial spirit. Cartlidge & Browne introduces an innovative new package and a renewed dedication to making critically acclaimed wines, which, according to Tony, “even graduate students can afford.”
The inspiration to make wine came to Tony unexpectedly while he driving a cement mixer in Washington State. He had just finished reading Robert Benson’s Great Winemakers of California (1977) and decided that the wine business might be more fun than operating heavy machinery. Although he knew virtually nothing about wine, he hopped into his 1960 Rambler and struck out for Napa Valley.
After talking his way into a winery tour guide job, and convincing the owner to let him dabble in winemaking, Tony and partner Glen Browne decided to break all the rules and embark on a winemaking enterprise with no experience, winery or vineyards.
While their more well-fixed neighbors were building lavish wineries and planting vineyards, Tony scoured the appellations of the North Coast in his beloved Rambler. From Napa to Sonoma to Mendocino to Lake County, his mission was to source the best grapes that could be found. He purchased those grapes and took them back to a simple winemaking facility—little more than a garage. It wasn’t long before critics began talking about the balanced, varietally correct, complex wines, a style previously thought achievable only with estate-grown and bottled fruit.
“They were Hollywood,” recalls Tony Cartlidge. “We were independent films.” Tony Cartlidge was now an extremely successful, if unconventional wine producer.
The family-owned, Sonoma-based wine company Vintage Wine Estates, acquired Cartlidge & Browne in 2011, and set about to restore the iconic brand with a new package and aesthetic to bring the origin story to life.
Cartlidge & Browne were among the earliest adapters of an American “garagiste” tradition. Originating in Bordeaux, this term was used to disparage small lot winemakers, sometimes working in their garages, who refused to follow the rules. Now, of course, it is a full-fledged movement responsible for making some of the world’s best wines. In that same tradition, the founders of Cartlidge & Brown broke with the expected to pursue winemaking on their terms.
“We made wine that we’d like to drink ourselves,” recalls Tony Cartlidge. “I always thought about that graduate student who had been exposed to good wine, but who couldn’t afford it.”
The new package features a “winged” logo with a retro feel that recalls the hood ornaments of vintage motorcars. The tagline describes “The Original Garage Winey” established 1980, evoking a sense of nostalgia for the decade ushered in with the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the debut of CNN and the release of the song “Call Me” by Blondie. Point-of-sale display includes a traffic-stopping “Lubrication Station” and case card with vintage gasoline pump artwork and the slogan “Because You’re An Original“.
Today, the garage may be gone, but the spirit and vision lives on. Tony Cartlidge continues as spokesman and ambassador for the wines, which remain true to their original style. Wines include North Coast appellation Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Suggested retail price are around $12-14.00.
For more information: Cartlidge and Browne Wines