Rachelle O’Brien, RLOCreative

RLOCreative, based in Napa and founded by Rachelle O'Brien, is a one-woman design company that provides unique products and creative services to the wine industry.


At a Glance

  • Professional graphic designer with over 15 years experience; wine industry focused since 2011.

  • Multiple degrees in Graphic Design, Wine Marketing & Sales, and Studio Art.

  • Have designed hundreds of labels for commercial and non-commercial clients.

  • Extremely knowledgable with labeling laws; have submitted hundreds of C.O.L.A. applications to the TTB.

  • Have created and registered over a dozen wine brands with the USPTO.

  • Have designed a wide range of marketing, informational, point-of-sale, and packaging materials for many nationally distributed brands.

  • Home winemaker since 2012.


 

Other drivers on the road that Fall morning in 2012 probably found me a bit odd looking. In a manner similar to that of a near-sighted 95-year-old (slowly, cautiously, and with my seat positioned as far forward as possible) I proudly steered my must-laden car towards home.

My cold, sticky fingers clutched the steering wheel at my chin as I carefully navigated the turns, glancing back every few seconds to check on my precious cargo. I had just completed my first harvest and my two, 10-gallon buckets each filled with 60 pounds of crushed & destemmed grapes were securely wedged between the front and back seats of my 4-door sedan. Surely this must be similar to the excitement and nervousness new parents feel when driving their baby home from the hospital, right?

I was about to create my first wine and there were only three things I knew for sure; this was going to be a blast, I was going to learn a lot, and I might completely fail. I was jazzed.


These are the sentiments with which I began my career in the wine industry. Prior to moving to Napa Valley, I designed mostly for start-ups in the technology industry, but found the work unfulfilling. I desired to work on exciting, consumer-facing projects that yielded tangible results, not pixel-based B2B projects built for attracting investors. 

Now, years later and with a few more harvests under my belt, I still feel that same excitement and curiosity - whether it’s making wine or designing for it. Each client and each project brings its own unique challenges to the table. Each one, an opportunity to learn something new and create something better than before. 

How am I Different?

With my varied work experience, education and my decision to focus my efforts solely within the wine industry, I am able to provide a wide range of services to my clients.

Also, there are the benefits of being a sole proprietor. Unlike design firms, I have the luxury of choosing to work with clients who may have smaller budgets. Additionally while these firms may be juggling many clients in order to cover their massive overhead, I am able to work with fewer clients at one time so that I can provide each with a more personal, one-on-one experience.

And finally, as a fellow winemaker and oenophile, I can speak your language! This isn’t just a job for me, this is my passion.

Experience

I got my start in the industry designing packaging for custom crush facilities. It was the best crash course I could have asked for. Juggling 30+ clients at a time, I learned to work quickly and efficiently. I managed each client’s packaging project from concept to completion. This included face-to-face brainstorming sessions with clients, working with the winemakers (aka bugging and bribing them with sweets) to gather technical information, submitting COLA applications to the TTB, and designing custom corks and capsules. I also managed the printing of each label. Some labels were printed in traditional offset but most were printed digitally using an automated system where I performed all the prepress duties; the printer didn’t touch or proof the files before printing - at times a nerve-wracking experience!

This varied experience provided me a solid foundation upon which I started RLOCreative.

Education

In 2005, I graduated from CSU, Sacramento with a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design.

To prepare me for a transition to wine-specific design, I decided to go back to school and in 2015, I earned a degree in Wine Marketing & Sales from the Viticulture and Winery Technology department at Napa Valley College. It provided me with a solid understanding not only in regards to the marketing and selling of wine, but the making of it as well, with topics including cellar operations, clean winemaking, viticulture, and sensory evaluation.

To make use of my scholastic momentum, I decided to continue my education, but this time focus on the artistic side of my business. In 2017, I earned my second degree from Napa Valley College in Studio Arts, with a concentration in drawing and painting.

I feel my combined education in wine, art, and design has placed me in a unique position to provide my clients with a more comprehensive set of creative services.

Working with Me

I consider myself an “old school” designer. I approach the process in a very tactile, analog way - working as much as I can with pencil and paper before I move onto the computer. I feel this process often yields more successful, meaningful designs. 

I think of my clients as my partners and like to involve them in the design process as much as possible. I take pleasure in extracting and deciphering creative ideas from the minds of even my most self-proclaimed “non-artistic” clients. I believe everyone has something to offer.

I strive to work efficiently. Unless a client requests the “design firm experience” I skip the refined, glossy, computer-generated concepts. I prefer to show clients my rough, hand-sketched ideas on paper as I believe presenting more refined concepts too early on can limit creative possibilities.

I value open and honest communication with my clients, especially in regards to budgets and expectations. I feel it’s crucial to establish clarity in these areas from the start in order to have a stress-free and successful working relationship. Simply put, I like to get the nuts and bolts out of the way so we can focus on the fun stuff!

My Philosophy

On the wall above my desk hangs a large sheet of newsprint. On it, written in charcoal, are the words “My work must reflect my talents, passions, and ethics”. These words guide the work I do and I rarely take on projects that do not meet those criteria. 

I take pride in my work and want to work with clients who take pride in theirs. I want my designs to be associated with quality products produced by wineries that care about the consumer and not just the bottom line. Clients who understand that a label design should be a reflection of the quality of wine within, not just a way to sell a $10 bottle of wine for 20. 

I am thankful for the privilege of living and working in this beautiful valley and want to see it preserved and protected. I greatly respect those wineries that strive to operate sustainably. By 2019, my goal is only accept new clients who are certified sustainable or are actively working towards becoming so. Click here to learn more about becoming sustainable.

Clients with whom I would like to work...
• Respect consumers by only selling quality products
• Operate sustainably (or are working towards certification)
• Support the local community and environment
• Respect their employees/consultants/freelancers/etc
• Are open to progressive, outside-the-box ideas
• Understand the importance of design and allocate their time and budget accordingly
• Are willing and active participants in the creative process
Bonus: Prefer discussing hand-drawn design concepts in a bar vs a slick powerpoint in a boardroom

My Hobbies

Winemaking... of course!! With grapes I hand-harvested from Russian River Valley, I have produced three vintages: a 2012 and 2014 Zinfandel, and a 2016 Zinfandel dessert wine (aka Port). Sparkling wine might be next on the list!

As one can tell from my Play Gallery, I enjoy many forms of creative expression including sewing, baking, ukulele playing, crocheting, singing, photography, crafts, greeting card designs, painting, drawing, and printmaking (including screen, relief, dry point, intaglio, monotype, and linocut).

I love to travel to new and exciting places - typically off the beaten path - places that require a combination of a plane, train, boat, or tuk-tuk to reach. 

I’m an avid learner. Some of my more recent classes have included glass blowing, Southeast Asian cooking, motorcycle riding, and aerial acrobatics. Next on my list... free diving, fly fishing, and finally learning how to whistle!

When I am not at home being crafty, backpacking in another country, or taking a class, you can find me on many of the hiking trails around the North Bay, either making my way to the top of the mountain to take in the 180 degree view or zig-zagging through the underbrush, obsessively foraging for mushrooms.