With the power of his middle name, Randal Bennett prevented a website being created for a winery that didn't exist.
Those are the peculiar facts of the arrangement that ultimately led to Townley Gallery in Laguna Beach providing artwork for the bottle labels of Townley Wines, a boutique winery in Sonoma.
Over the past year and a half, the winery has released a cabernet and a pinot noir featuring paintings by Shane Townley, who runs the gallery at 570 S. Coast Highway. How the two businesses came together is a long story — according to Bennett and Townley, both genealogy buffs, it goes back to the 18th century, at least — but in modern times, it began with the gallery owner daydreaming about starting his own vineyard someday, then Googling "Townley Wines" to see if such a company existed.
Townley, who claims to have registered about 150 domain names, sometimes snatches up the rights to a URL for a company or project to be launched later. One such address is http://www.townleyfoundation.org, which he intends for a children's education nonprofit; at present, the URL redirects to his regular website at http://www.townley.co.
"I start everything with a domain name, and then I go from there," Townley said.
When he punched in the name of his imagined winery, though, he found there was already a Townley Wines up north. Over the next two years he revisited the winery's Facebook page several times, then, on a whim, messaged the proprietor, Bennett, and suggested a meeting.
Bennett accepted the invitation and made the trek to Laguna, wine bottles in tow. Once he saw Townley's paintings and the gallery staff sampled his stock, a partnership was born.
"We tasted the wine and went, 'Oh my God, this wine is incredible,'" said Bill Bradfield, the gallery's marketing and sales director. "It's something we could really feel proud to put our artwork on. It's not cheap wine by any means, but we don't want our artwork on cheap wine."
Townley Wines, which began in 2007, describes its stock online as "specialized small lots of artisan wines"; according to Bennett, a typical batch consists of 100 cases with 12 bottles each. Until the winery began using Townley's paintings, its bottles featured silhouetted photographs of towns that Bennett had visited.
The new labels, he said, could help to expand the winery's fan base.
"People who are interested in art, I think they're drawn to it," Bennett said. "And it certainly is a great piece for people who are fans of Shane Townley."
About that surname: It's also Bennett's middle name, a family name on his mother's side that goes back at least to the 18th century, when a Mary Townley married a Richard Redfern. As for Townley, he noted the existence of a Towneley family in England whose existence, at least on Wikipedia, dates back to the 14th century. Does that mean Shane Townley is Bennett's distant cousin? Neither man rules it out.
It's a time-honored tradition for a business owner to apply his surname to his company — think Ford, Disney and countless others — but Bennett's middle name ended up scoring him a valuable ally. Since Townley Gallery began providing art for the winery, it's served the wine at receptions and at the First Thursdays Art Walk.
When the gallery sold the landscape painting that graced last year's cabernet, it threw in three bottles as well. In April, the winery previewed the pinot noir, which has yet to be officially released, at the gallery. Townley said the gallery has also brought bottles, and paintings, to wine society events around Southern California.
The cabernet painting features a tree on a mostly barren landscape with hills in the background; the pinot noir image depicts a group of trees by water's edge under a massive yellow sky with clouds. Townley didn't create either image with bottle labels in mind (the original painting used for the pinot noir measures 48 by 60 inches), but both proved to be a fit.
While Townley hopes to provide artwork for future wines, he's retired his dream of someday running his own vineyard; hearing Bennett's stories, he said, made him realize how much work it entails.
"It's definitely an art form," Townley said. "I respect everything Randy does."