The job of the wine historian in San Luis Obispo County is to identify, research and archive each person and business that shaped the wine history of San Luis Obispo County. The reader often assumes all those legendary names would be found among over 500 growers and winemakers, past and present. However, certain events, government laws and private business have been very influential in our local wine history.
Perhaps the best kept secret is that Blake Printery, founded in the city of San Luis Obispo, established the unique business of producing and printing wine labels for the wine industry with a graphic design team and cutting-edge technology that has become one of the most famous and dynamic in the world. Each label can be viewed as a work of art. The industry often speaks of the “California Look” when describing this new product.
The innovations developed at Blake Printery changed the marketing, purchasing, and consumer appreciation for wine throughout California, and subsequently across the United States and Eastern Europe.
Richard Blake states that the wine label is one of the most difficult printed products to manufacture due to the stringent standards of quality demanded by the wine industry. The many print features and variables add further complexity. The wine label requires extreme consistency and precise registration between each ink color and foil. Additional specialty process include foiling, embossing, die cutting and scuff-resistant coating.
Blake Printery was established by Emmons Blake in 1947. Subsequently it was purchased by his son Richard in 1972 who expanded the business, added cutting edge technology and established a vision of excellence that transformed Blake Printery into one of the finest printing establishments in the world. The company was sold to WS Packaging Company in 2001. WS has multiple locations around the world producing labels. The San Luis Obispo location on Beebee Street is a key location.
Impact on the Wine History of San Luis Obispo County
The most significant impact on wine history was the research demonstrating that the label on the wine bottle is the least costly component of the wine package, yet the most important in terms of first-time sales.
- The wine label attracts the customer to make their first purchase of a particular wine 80% percent of the time.
- Wine is one of the few products with a label that is placed on the dinner table and the label is usually scrutinized for information and education.
- The anticipated enjoyment of the wine based on the label adds to the actual enjoyment of the wine.
- Wine labels can create the impression that a bottle contains a wine of superior quality.
- The label is a powerful tool in marketing. It can tell the story of the winery and present a logo and design that is memorable.
The quality of the wine label is extremely important. An imperfect or damaged wine label will usually result in an unsold bottle of wine.
- Buyers will not buy a wine with a damaged label.
- Blake Printery researched paper characteristics and developed sources of durable and textured paper manufactured around the globe. These papers often had to be specially made for differing label designs.
- The Cobb test which measures the humidity content of the paper had to be considered.
Wine labels must be placed perfectly on the glass during the bottling process.
- The placement on the bottle and the type of adhesive used is determined by multiple factors including the bottle manufacturing process, the type of materials and paper used to manufacture the label and the color of the ink.
- Blake Printery developed methods to manufacture labels that could be applied perfectly in the bottling line, at the rate of 36,000 bottles an hour.
Label design is influenced by where you market your wines – in the tasting room, at restaurants, grocery stores and wine shops, online, nationally or internationally.
- Blake Printery staff developed methods of working with the client to design the appropriate label to maximize marketing.
- Die cutting methods can produce special arcs, curves and unique shapes.
The manufacture, transportation and delivery of the wine label is crucial to the success of a label manufacturer.
- When wine is ready to be bottled there is a short window of time between the decision and the bottling. Blake Printery developed transportation systems which included truck, air and helicopter delivery of labels in a matter of hours when necessary.
Technology and Innovation
- The equipment purchased to control humidity and temperature in the work environment, the design and production of the label, the quality of the materials and the packaging continued to evolve and required substantial capital to stay at the forefront of wine label production.
Employees with the highest skills in the Printing Industry
- The key to Blake’s success was the invaluable pool of graduates from the CalPoly Graphics Communication Department that graduated the top employees in the field.
- By 1999 Blake Printery was the largest single employer of CalPoly printing graduates in the nation.
- Blake Printery maintained a database on the types of inks, adhesives, papers and adhesives that had been matched in past orders.
- Blake Printery maintained a database of bottle types, the manufacturers and label application equipment.
- Quality control measures continually were used to monitor the production of labels at each stage.
- Blake set up a stringent and systematic set of quality assurance procedures throughout the production for each individual client and a quality assurance file was maintained for every order.
- Quality control managers and in-house engineers were available to visit the winery to inspect bottling lines for any problem that may arise due to line speed and configuration, temperature or humidity.
Blake Printery and Early History: A One-Man Shop in the Alley
Blake Printery was established by Emmons Blake (1921-2007). While a student of Antioch College in Ohio, he married a fellow classmate, Barbara Chisolm in 1944. World War II was raging in Europe and the Pacific when the young newlyweds moved to San Diego where Emmons served in the United States Navy.
After the war ended in 1945, Emmons and Barbara decided to move to San Luis Obispo so that he could complete his college education at California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly). Emmons wanted to establish a weekly newspaper. In the 1940s, the printing business and newspaper production were often set up as one business designed to print a variety of materials for local customers and while publishing a weekly newspaper.
Professor C. Herald Gregory, one of the founding fathers of the Graphic Communication Department (Printing) at CalPoly, became an important mentor to Emmons. The department was created in 1946 and became one of the preeminent programs in the United States. The program included media, advertising, marketing, books, magazines, catalogs, and packages in printed form. It was one of only two such academic departments in colleges and universities in the United States. CalPoly became the major provider for the leadership in the printing and publishing industry. Emmons Blake was one of the first students to be accepted into the program. Emmons studied what today is known as Graphic Communication. At the time this area of study was known as Printing.
Emmons was the first CalPoly printing graduate to pursue his chosen career by founding his own business. He had dreamed of establishing his own printing business and publishing a weekly newspaper. As stated earlier, in the 1940s many printing businesses serviced the needs of local businesses and also published a weekly newspaper. Emmons established Blake Printery as a one man operation in 1947 when he had the opportunity to purchase the client records from the Telegram Tribune for $100. The newspaper had decided to focus on publishing a daily edition. Emmons selected a location in downtown San Luis Obispo in an alley now known as Court Street, directly across from the then location of McCarthy’s Bar. Having now acquired the former customers of the Telegram Tribune, he started the business before he completed his education. The Blake Printery later moved to 1415 Monterey Street as the business grew.
Fifty years later, Blake Printery had become the largest commercial printing company on the Central Coast.
In the 21st century the field of Graphic Communication represents one of the largest professions in the world. It has expanded to include electronic printing, packaging, digital imaging, digital photography, printable electronics and website development.
Professor Gregory of CalPoly became an important mentor not only to Emmons as a student in the new and dynamic Printing Department but also to Richard in developing the business of Blake Printery, designing the new building and intorducing new technology used in the printing establishment.
The relationships that the Blake family established with CalPoly were the key to the long term success of Blake Printery and the sister division known as Poor Richard’s Press. To quote Richard from an article published in the Print-Equipment News in August, 1999: “if it had not been for Gregory’s mentoring, he (Blake) would never have reached the level of knowledge and expertise needed to preside over a major printing establishment.
Emmons received an Honored Alumnus Award at CalPoly in 1970 from the College of Liberal Arts in recognition of his contributions in the field of Printing and Graphic Communications.
When Richard Blake bought the business from his father in 1972, Emmons retired. He and Barbara then pursued new interests. He developed a strong commitment to his community, serving on the San Luis City Council and working for years with the local Republican Party. He served as President of the Kiwanis Club and worked on many service projects with the organization. He also worked with the homeless, delivered Meals on Wheels and filled sandbags during the floods.
In their retirement years, Barbara and Emmons also worked as center managers for FEMA. They managed disaster relief efforts across the world including the 1989 Earthquake in Gilroy, California, to storm disasters in Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Guam. Emmons also worked with USAID in Guatemala.
The Blake Family, Barbara, Diana, Richard and Jodi, contributed $100,000 to the Children’s Museum in San Luis Obispo in his honor, shortly after his death. He passed away in 2007.
In 1999, Richard Blake established the C. Harold Gregory/Blake Printery Endowment for Graphic Communication at CalPoly to honor CalPoly professor emeritus C. Harold Gregory, one of the founders of the department. Professor Gregory had passed away in 1996.
Richard C. Blake – his first 18 years of Adventure and Entrepreneurial Pursuits
Richard was born on September 19, 1947, at the San Luis Obispo General Hospital. His mother, Barbara, spent 6 days at the hospital for a total charge of $45 resting up for a lifetime of excitement and mischief from this lively baby. Emmon and Barbara also welcomed two daughters, one before and one after Richard’s birth. The three siblings have always been close.
To quote Richard, “That past is a mix of businessman, brother, son, husband, father, friend, helicopter pilot, deputy sheriff, and visits to 68 countries. Add to that a little disobedience, daring, and stupidity and you get some interesting outcomes.”
Richard did not plan to join his father, Emmons, in the printing business. He dreamed of becoming a jet pilot or pursuing criminals or the champion driver behind the wheel in race cars. He remembers describing printing as “boring” as he reminisced about the antique printing press that his father gave him as a gift during his teenage years. Emmons had restored the printing press, which was manufactured in the early 1900s, with new ink rollers, and paired it with a gift of old hand-set type, hoping to spark Richard’s interest in the Blake Printery business. However, it was the thought of earning extra money that enticed Richard, so he joined the staff of Blake Printery as the Saturday morning janitor “to work his way out of the poverty of youth” during his high school years.
Richard is at heart an entrepreneur. He decided to use his father’s gift of the antique printing press to set up his own business, printing business cards for local rock and roll groups, tickets for church and school events as well as campaign materials for those running for student government offices in his high school. Richard realized how instrumental the campaign materials he designed for student government candidates were in winning their student elections. He began to make political decisions to choose the candidate he favored, and to print campaign materials only for them. His chosen candidate usually was victorious. The school administration was very unhappy with his tactics but as Richard says, “such is the way of business and politics…..”
Travel Adventures of a 15 Year Old
Richard also has a passion for travel. One of the most interesting stories Richard shared was his five week, 8,000-mile odyssey traveling on a greyhound bus around the United States. He visited San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Yellowstone National Park, Chicago, New York, Cape Cod, and Washington D.C. at age 15. The year was 1963 and President Jack Kennedy was living in the White House. Richard had many adventures but my favorite is his attempt to breach the Kennedy Compound on Cape Cod to meet President John Kennedy in person.
Bicycles were the source of transportation used to reach the Kennedy compound by Richard and his cousin Peter who was in charge of navigation. They left their bicycles at the edge of the compound and crawled through the fence and underbrush, slithering past the ankles of the Secret Services agents without being detected. When finally discovered they were interrogated and forced to confess to gaining access to the compound by swimming rather than bicycling to the compound. Apparently this placed the fallout for the security breach in hands of the Coast Guard rather than the Secret Service. The boys were finally released after midnight to the custody of Richard’s Uncle David. As he stepped onto the Greyhound Bus early the next morning, the news reported. “Two boys…ages 15 and 16…swam into the President’s compound…Coast Guard to review its security procedures.”
The following day Richard traveled by bus to Washington D. C. witnessing and participating in the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” attended by 250,000 people, an event which led to the passage of the 1964 Voting Rights Act. I share this story because it speaks to Richard’s curiosity, daring and entrepreneurial spirit; he is one who evaluates the risks and rewards while pursuing his dreams.
Bob Johnson, a business manager and partner at Hysen-Johnson Ford in downtown San Luis Obispo, was the most important of Richard’s mentors. He worked for Bob for three years, earning 90 cents per hour. He was assigned all sorts of tasks from delivery of cars to janitorial services. He earned the name of “Flash” while learning about payroll, accounts payable and inventory control. Richard also learned his business ethics from Bob and to respect employees and their contributions to the business.. These skills were important in shaping his own business ethics at Blake Printery.
Richard’s College Years Lead to An Unexpected Career Choice
Richard graduated from San Luis Obispo High School and started college at University of California at Santa Barbara in 1966. In 1967 he transferred to Berkeley Campus where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration in 1970. The Vietnam War was raging so the prospect of pursuing the career of a jet fighter pilot was no longer an option for him. He was accepted into the MBA program at UC Berkeley which would begin in the fall but Richard knew he would have to pay for his own books and tuition. He returned to San Luis Obispo to find a job to earn the money to pay for graduate school. His father needed a delivery boy and Richard agreed to get a haircut and work for Blake Printery at $4.65 per hour.
To his surprise he liked his work, meeting with clients including the local merchants, contractors, doctors, politicians, government bureaucrats and purchasing agents. Richard soon moved from delivery boy to processing orders and estimating job costs. Emmons must have been celebrating quietly in his office.
Richard’s high school friend, Mike Glavin, also joined the firm and they became the perfect team to develop the business into a multifaceted and highly successful diversified operation. Richard focused on marketing, developing the human resources needed and finance. Mike handled sales and operations. These two men established the reputation for the highest quality and service in their industry.
Blake Printery Ownership Passes to the Second Generation with a New Vision
As Richard learned more about the printing business, he decided to postpone graduate school and continue learning about the printing business. Richard struck a deal with his father to purchase the business in 1972. Emmons was ready to pursue new interests, establishing dual careers in local politics and community service which led to his work with Barbara at FEMA in disaster relief.
His father was an important mentor. Richard describes several important values he learned from Emmons Blake in an article published in the San Luis Obispo County Tribune on February 20, 1982: a proper attitude in dealing with customers, the value in always telling the truth and the importance of producing the highest quality product.
Richard C. Blake Provides the Leadership for Multiple Businesses within Blake Graphic Center
When Richard purchased Blake Printery he recognized that he knew nothing about the mechanics of the printing business. However, he knew how to organize a team of committed and motivated employees and provide the resources and support they needed to achieve his business goals. Richard wanted to produce the highest quality materials with a focus on excellence.
Richard started with a team of six employees (none were family members) which grew to a staff of over 100. Richard always hired the best and the brightest. One key to his success was the invaluable pool of graduates from the CalPoly Graphics Communication Department that graduated the top employees in the field.
Richard developed a vision of Blake Graphic Center as the umbrella organization for five divisions, each with its specialty. The mainstay business was quality printing, producing a wide variety of products. Examples of the projects going to press in early 1982 include a textbook for CalPoly, a book for First Interstate Bank on their employees and positions, postcards for the Madonna Inn and a full-color brochure for the Tropicana Apartments in San Luis Obispo. In 1981 a new focus emerged as more wineries began to open in San Luis Obispo County. Richard saw a new marketing opportunity which would change the California wine industry.
The customers fell into two groups: customers who wanted top-quality professional services and were willing to pay for them and customers whose top priorities were speed and economy. Quality was not the top priority of the second group.
The Blake Graphic Center ultimately developed five divisions: Blake Printery for top quality printing and publishing, TinType Graphic Arts for design and typesetting, Poor Richard’s Press located in multiple offices to provide quick printing and photocopying at a reasonable rate, and Diversified Packaging which included transportation and delivery. In late 1981 Hars Photographics was established in the growing business, to provide photography services for clients.
Richard’s vision was to build the business known as “the best printing business in the world” which meant producing the highest quality printing in the commercial marketplace.
In 1977 he moved the business to a new location on Bee Bee Street in San Luis Obispo. By 1981 his production space on BeeBee Street measured 30,000 square feet and the sales at Blake Printery had increased to $4 million.
Blake Printery focused on the newest equipment developed through computerized and technological innovations. The demand for color printing increased dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s. Poor Richard’s Press had multiple locations in the county which provided quick printing services to 70 percent of the businesses in the county. The staff researched the equipment available worldwide and selected multi-color offset presses capable of printing 80,000 26 x 40 inch sheets per shift. The goal was to provide consistency and quality with speed.
Printing presses had been manufactured in Germany by Heidelberg Press since 1851. The life span of this equipment was 30 years compared to the average 10-year life of printing presses manufactured in the United States. The first Heidelberg press was purchased in 1979. Multiple presses were purchased during the following decade for the Poor Richard’s division including the computerized Heidelberg Speedmaster Press which had the ability to print five colors in one pass and to adjust ink intensity with simple computer commands.
By 1999 Blake Printery was the largest single employer of CalPoly printing graduates in the nation. These skilled individuals were educated on the best technology available in the world. Richard also wanted to have happy employees. He gave them the responsibility and the power to make their own decisions in each of the divisions. Included in the management group was long-time friend Pete Gurnsey who handled the business and accounting division. Blake Printery purchased the finest equipment and technology in the world to produce their quality products.
Over the 30 years that Richard managed the company, ten businesses were developed from the ground up, nine were purchased and five were sold. The names include Tintype Graphic Arts which was an advertising agency and graphic design firm; Diversified Paper & Packaging, a wholesale supplier of packaging materials; Blake Publishing, creator and distributor of travel and nature books; Graphic Grove Daycare, a state-licensed daycare center for both the employees and the community; TinType Tech, a computer graphics school; and Photo-Graphics, a commercial photography company.
Blake Printery Becomes Legendary by Designing and Printing Wine Labels
Blake Printery became legendary in the printing industry because they revolutionized the marketing of wine In California by developing a unique specialty – printing artistically designed labels for wine bottles which attracted consumers to the brand.
As the number of wineries multiplied in San Luis Obispo County, Richard visited local tasting rooms to sip local wines and learn more about the burgeoning industry. It was the visual image placed on the wine bottle rather than the wine that caught his attention. The label designs were not dazzling or attractive; the labels were created and printed with almost no thought about their visual impact on the consumer. Most were not memorable and once you left the tasting room or the restaurant it was difficult to remember what wine you had enjoyed.
Richard put down his glass of wine and started doing more research into how a wine label impacts the customer’s decision to buy the wine. At this time Blake Printery was creating labels for other products in a variety of colors and papers with exotic foiling, embossing and with die-cutting capabilities that could enhance any design.
Prior to the 1980s most wine labels were based on the standard French Renaissance design. This design harks back to the 1860s when the Grocer’s Licensing Act became law in France. Wines were allowed to be sold in individual bottles as long as they could be identified with a label. Glues were available and labels were developed to be placed on the bottle surface but there was no standardization. The focus was on identifying the product, not marketing it to the consumer.
Richard found research that indicated 80% of wine buyers based their purchasing decisions entirely on the label. Richard found this fact very significant because the cost of producing a label is the least expensive item in the packaging of wine. Packaging components include the bottle, cork, capsule, and the label. In other words, the marketing value of the label far exceeded its cost because the label was what sold wine to 80% of the customers. Richard also found studies that show people buy wine as a statement of their “fine tastes.”
Further research showed that no one will buy a bottle with a faulty or damaged label. Blake Printery did extensive research into how wine bottles were manufactured and released from the mold. The process involved chemicals that can affect the surface of the bottle and make it difficult for a label to be applied. The type of paper selected for wine labels had to be resistant to damage during bottling and shipping. The adhesive had to be perfect to attach the label securely to the bottle.
Each wine label had to be designed for the specific vintage and wine varietal. The sales team developed a series of steps to guide the client through the design phase of producing the label. Richard assembled a design team of artists with specific knowledge and interest in wine label design.
The search for over 74 specific types of paper led to working with companies to make the paper to meet exact specifications. These materials were imported from villages and cities all over the world. A large variety of foils were added.
The colors on the label had to be printed with perfect color consistency. A wide range of specific colors were developed for the customer base. Each color had to be consistent so that the quality and color never varied over the years on a printed label.
The label had to be applied with the adhesive most compatible with the bottle surface. Originally labels were applied with glue and there were many types to develop. Later the pressure label became dominant.
Special presses that were used for die-cutting and embossing were added to the technology.
By 1981 Richard realized he could provide each winery with a unique high-quality label at a reasonable cost. He had worked with his employees to develop the design, manufacturing and quality control resources and purchased the high-tech equipment to do so.
His motto became: “without your label, it’s only wine.”
The average cost of a label was four cents in the marketplace. The price at Blake Printery would be more than double that amount to produce a quality product. The company was able to provide consistency and quality that surpassed every other wine label on the market.
Printing a wine label is a very complex process. The labels pass through the press multiple times, often between 10 and 17 times. Water is a key component. It makes us 8 percent of the label; the printing process not only adds water but also draws water out of the label. It is key to the process that the label does not change shape; humidity and temperature in the room must be maintained with air conditioning units. Mists of moisture are added to the air as needed.
Bottles move through labeling machines at speeds between 12,000 and 36,000 bottles per hour. Labels are cut in a single block so the air must be removed from between the pages so that the labels meet the cutting blade in a single block. The label must be able to take the adhesive material without damaging the label so the paper is tested regularly. They have to be tough to remain perfect during shipment where wine bottles vibrate in the cartons. The bottle and label must look exactly the same in condition, color and style as the bottle it graced three years ago. They may be standing next to one another at the wine shop.
Read more about the label printing process, Printing Pressure Sensitive Wine Labels with Flexographic Equipment.
HMR – the first winery to order a custom label at Blake Printery
Richard worked with his team, headed by division manager Mike Glavin, to find his first customer with a promise of a low price in exchange for the label that Blake Printing would design. It would be printed on solid black paper with embossed bright gold foil letters. The die-cutting technology would create an unusual shape. Dr. Stanley Hoffman, who founded HMR Winery in 1972, agreed to the proposal. The new labels were applied after bottling the wine. The HMR wines were delivered to local wine shops and stores. A few days later Richard checked in local shops to see how the new label looked on the shelves but it was impossible to find a single bottle. The wine was sold out!
HMR was considered to be the first modern winery built on the Central Coast after Prohibition. The winery was famous after winning both gold and double gold medals for their Chardonnay at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London in 1979. The success of the wine labels produced by Blake Printery was definitely noticed not only in San Luis Obispo County but also in Napa.
As Blake Printery began to capture the attention of other local wineries, Richard said, “wineries throughout the Western Hemisphere realized we were correct, resulting in Blake Printery becoming the leading label supplier for most wineries.” However Richard noted that he never received an order from any French winery. They did not change their labels.
The development of the technology was very challenging – exact color matching to existing logos and designs, metallic foil application, sculptural embossing, and intricate die cutting. Blake Printery excelled with these challenges.
Another important element of the process was Blake Printery’s ability to produce the quality label with a very tight time constraint.
A winemaker might call and say: we are bottling Cabernet Sauvignon in three days. It has to be packed and trucked to Los Angeles Harbor to be loaded onto a ship to China two days later. Blake Printery was able to meet the demand that soon exploded throughout California. They established their own Direct Packaging and Transportation Division. The label printing division ran 24/7 until the job was complete. Sometimes labels were delivered by helicopter to Napa a few hours later. Richard added a Hughes 500-C helicopter to provide speed and delivery service when needed, He became known as the “flying printer”. Richard also joined the 40 member county Sheriff’s Aero Squadron which took to the air to help with emergency rescues to save lives or look for those that are lost or injured.
By the 1990s wineries including Pesenti, Talley, Corbett Canyon, Schramsberg, Fetzer, Stoneybrook and Woodbridge were just a few of the famous brands who selected Blake Printery to print their dynamic labels.
Digitization created new challenges and opportunities. New technologies were developed in creating Digital Labels which required a different series of machines and skills. Traditional printers were not prepared for the challenging demands of the wineries.
Blake Printer created a new image in wine labels, sometimes known as the California look. Each new label was seen as a work of art.
Napa Valley wineries originally represented Blake’s largest market area. But orders from the East Coast, Pacific Northwest, Texas, Mexico and Russia were significant as well.
Innovations in Label Making
By 1999 Blake Printery had introduced full-color electronic printing and added pressure sensitive wine labels to its product line.
One of the important changes in producing wine labels was the growing demand for pressure sensitive wine labels. Richard and Mike Gavin saw the next step in the technology of producing wine labels. It required a new technology and a move into the “flexo” or “pressure sensitive” business.
Richard and Mike Glavin researched the industry and decided to work with the Wisconsin Label Group, Algoma, headed by CEO Terry Fulwiler. They formed a joint venture known as a flexographic division that became known as CALabel between Blake Printery and W S Packaging Group (a merger of Wisconsin Label Group with Superior Label of Mason, Ohio). It was located at the Blake Printery Production Center in San Luis Obispo. By 1998, David Hoydal (a CalPoly graduate) was hired as the art director and Gil Dulong as the plant manager of CalLabel. The business was wine labels and the high-end production facility won national awards for quality from the Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute and the Flexographic Technical Association. Sheetfed glue-applied labels continued to be produced in another division.
The Men From Moldova
In 1995 a bus of men in business suits pulled up in front of Blake Printery. They entered the reception area and had a request – can we talk about wine labels? They spoke with heavy Russian accents and stated that they were from a country called Moldova. This country is one of the former republics of the Soviet Union. The economy is primarily dependent on wine production. Grapes are grown in an area near the Caspian Sea. It had been occupied by the Russian until their economy collapsed in the early 1990s. The Moldovans were now an independent nation with only two industries – submarines and vineyards. However the Russians had decommissioned the submarines so Moldovan visitors were hoping that wine production could reboot their economy. The men were traveling throughout California for three weeks to learn about the wine industry because they were aware that California wine sales and exports were outpacing those of France. One difference stood out immediately, the “California Look” on the wine labels.
The relationship with the Moldovans was very educational. Their goal was to create a wine industry with strong international sales. The businessmen were living in a culture where corruption and counterfeiting was rampant. Counterfeiting labels to sell fake products to unsuspecting consumers was the norm. The unique labels produced by Blake Printery with holographic foils, embossing and unusual shapes would be impossible to reproduce by counterfeiters.
The labels created for the Moldovan wine industry enabled them to sell their wines throughout Europe – their wine sales increased by 300%. The Moldovan wine industry continued to order new labels with various designs at a rapid pace. Apparently the quality of the wine was not attractive to repeat customers, so each new vintage had a new label.
Mike and Richard decided to visit Moldovan clients a few years later.
However their entry into the country was something you would find in a spy thriller. When they landed in Chisinau, Moldova, a military vehicle appeared on the gangway. Two officers boarded the plane and suddenly over the loudspeaker came these words “Richard Blake and Mike Glavin… stand now.” Both men were exhausted from the long trip and could not imagine what would happen next. After being escorted off the plane into a security vehicle they were driven to a dark building. When they entered the building, they were surprised by their clients and the military hosting a celebration, touting them as “national heroes who had saved the Moldovan economy from certain collapse.” Throughout their tour the military served chocolates and brandy on silver trays.
One of the highlights of their ten day tour was an adventure in a limestone cave, a former bomb shelter, which included a dinner in a beautiful dining room and museum where the “oldest bottle of wine in the world” was on display. Richard was told it was 2,000 years old and valued at $4 million dollars.
Richard noted that the Moldovan people he worked with were young – in their thirties. The older generation had not transitioned successfully into entrepreneurial pursuits because they had lived their adult lives under communism. Richard enjoyed this unique opportunity to explore the rise of young entrepreneurs across the world.
Poor Richard’s Press – A Division of Blake Printery
Poor Richard’s Press was one of the first privately-owned, walk-in, on-demand printing establishments in the United States and it was founded in San Luis Obispo.
In 1972, Richard and his management team researched a new platemaking technology that revolutionized the industry. Research in the field had suggested that over 70% of the printing jobs fell into the basic category. This meant the work could be done on much simpler and more efficient equipment. This new technology provided a low cost printing service for those who needed a fast service, delivered within one to twenty-four hours. Richard established a new division of the Blake Printery with the name of Poor Richard’s Press to offer quick printing and copying services to the public at a discount.
Poor Richard’s Press was run as a separate division. It developed a reputation as a nationally recognized business specializing in short-run, turnaround projects at six discount printing stores located in cities on the Central Coast including Arroyo Grande, Santa Maria, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo.
Blake established the printing stores with five colors of ink, 74 kinds of paper with 25 high-speed presses and staffed with 25 employees performing the high speed tasks. Poor Richard’s Press also provided binding, numbering and typesetting services. Printing services were now available to everyone for a reasonable price near their place of business.
A 1999 survey by the Taylor Consulting Group concluded that 66% percent of the clients who used Poor Richard’s Press were located between Paso Robles and Lompoc.
TinType Graphic Arts – A Division of Blake Printery
This division provided graphic design services, direct photographic services and typesetting with “artistry.” Employees produced billboards, circuit boards, travel books, logos and lettering for trucks, promotional pieces, labels, packaging and the masthead of a newspaper. The department was staffed with 14 specialists who had access to over 2600 typefaces, all set “at a smoking 735 lines per minute.” The equipment included the Mergenthaler Linotron with a 10 million character memory which was able to expand, compress and oblique the type in 103 different point sizes. Computers were able to accept content on discs from the client over telephone lines. The services provided were 80% cheaper than conventional typesetting. They were also significantly faster. A 200 page book could be typeset and ready to print in less than a week. And the technology just kept improving.
Blake Publishing – A Division of Blake Printery
Richard realized that another profit center of Blake Printery could be book publishing. The company had all the resources to publish paperback pictorials with photos and text provided by numerous California tourist destinations including the California Wineries – A Photographic Profile, California Cooperage, Lost Hills Vineyards, San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce Visitors, Zaca Mesa, Stearns Wharf Vintners, The Monterey Aquarium, Salinas, Hearst Castle. Scenic HWY 1, Sierra Sunrise, and the Montecito Guide just to mention a few travel related books. Nature books were added to the mix. Blake Publishing kept a large inventory so that orders could be filled and delivered quickly. Travel guides were printed for Chambers of Commerce all over the United States.
Blake Bindery – The Transportation Division with Quality Control
One of the challenges Blake Printery faced was delivering the printing product in a timely manner. They became experts on shipping. The workers in this division were responsible for inspecting, collating, wrapping and preparing millions of pieces for delivery. As the company grew, they acquired their own trucks and a helicopter to make those deliveries on time. The fleet of trucks would make deliveries and then proceed to the ports of Los Angeles or San Francisco to pick up shipments of hundreds of papers, foils and inks shipped from all over the world.
Heidelberg Printing Presses bring the newest technology in the 1970s and 1980s
Almost every year Richard invested in new equipment from Germany – larger than life sized Heidelberg printing presses. The eighth press, purchased in the early 1980s, the Heidelberg 102-VP was covered by the Telegram Tribune which touted it as “the largest and most complex four-color printing press in the country.” According to Richard this model had computerized control and memory, enabling instant adjustments of color and density at speeds of 10,000 sheets per hour. The smallest Heidelberg printed a sheet of paper up to 13 by 18 inches. The new large printer could print a document 28 by 40 inches in size. The cost was $200,000. Over the years the machines developed to print labels of all sizes and shapes astound the eye in their speed and range of design and color.
As the technology and equipment became more sophisticated the training of employees was brought in-house because there was more institutional knowledge within the company than outside in universities and technical schools.
A New Business Structure – WS Packaging Group
When the WS Packaging Group acquired the assets of Blake Printery, all the businesses were absorbed into the new company. There were now 17 locations producing labels. The business remained focused on wine labels with 85% of the business generating income from this source. The remainder of the labels were produced for food, non-wine beverages, health and beauty.
One of the highest certification in the business is the ISO-2008 certification which meets standards for the development and application of a successful Quality Management System where formalized business practices are applied. It creates opportunities for developing new marketing opportunities and business strategies. This certification was awarded to 14 labeling and packaging facilities.
In 2017 Larry Griffin, the general manager of the San Luis Obispo production facility accepted the TLMI (Tag and Manufacturers Institute) Best of Class Award and four category awards in the Offset Wine and Spirit Category.
Richard Blake is officially retired but maintains his office in the facility and presides over special projects. Local wineries proudly display their labels printed at WS Packaging Group in San Luis Obispo including Wolff Vineyards Brut Cuvee, Nila Grace Sauvignon Blanc, Zellerbach Cabernet Sauvignon, Cypher. Tobin James. Carmody McKnight, Cambria, RB Rare Merlot, David Bruce, Firestone, Cline, Wood Winery, Castoro Cellars, Puma Road, Treanna, Llano, McManis, Force of Nature and Christian Tietje Wines Farewell to Kings.
1732: Benjamin Franklin publishes Poor Richard’s Almanac.The inspiration for the name Poor Richard’s Press came from Poor Richard’s Almanac, written by Benjamin Franklin who adopted the pseudonym of Poor Richard or Richard Saunders as the author of this very successful publication. It is interesting to note that ten thousand copies of the pamphlet were published annually and sold in the original thirteen colonies from 1732 to 1758.
1921: Emmons Blake is born in La Jolla, California.
1921: Barbara Chisolm is born in Portland, Oregon.
1939: Emmons and Barbara enroll in Antioch College in Ohio as freshmen students
1942: The United States declares war on Japan and enters World War II.
1943: Emmons and Barbara Blake are married.
1943: Emmons Blakes serves in the Navy, stationed in San Diego, California.
1945: Emmons is discharged from the Navy. Emmons and Barbara move to San Luis Obispo, California
1946: Emmons enrolls in California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly) to study printing in the new department Printing (later known as Graphic Communication).
1946: The Telegram Tribune newspaper closes their printing business. Emmon buys the equipment for $100.
1947: Emmons founds Blake Printery on Court Street in San Luis Obispo. He contacts the former customers of the Telegram Tribune and provides printing services to them.
1947: Son Richard Blake is born on September 19 to Emmons and Barbara Blake.
1948: Emmons graduates from California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly).
1952: Janice Bonin and Richard Blake are crowned the junior queen and king of the Fiesta. Both are five years old.
1963: Richard takes his first travel adventure on a Greyhound Bus Tour of the United States, ending in Washington DC.
1963: Richard decides to work his way out of “youth poverty”. He takes on two jobs and starts his own business. Richard Blake is hired as a janitor at Blake Printery. Bob Johnson, owner of Hysen Johnson Ford, hires Richard as a Richard Blake works as a janitor and delivery boy. Bob becomes an important mentor to Richard.
1963: Young Richard Blake starts his own printing business. He prints posters and campaign materials for fellow students running for high school offices as well as tickets for rock and roll concerts and local events.
1966: Richard graduates from San Luis Obispo High School and enters college at University of California, Santa Barbara.
1967: Richard Blake transfers to the University of California, Berkeley.
1970: Richard Blake graduates from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Business Administration. The Vietnam War is ramping up.
1970: Richard returns to San Luis Obispo and accepts a “temporary job” at Blake Printery.
1972: Richard purchases Blake Printery from his father. He develops his own business plan and management style, starting with six employees. He establishes Poor Richard’s Press as an adjunct to Blake Printery.
1974: Poor Richard’s Press moves to a new location from 1415 Monterey Street to 2121 Santa Barbara Street in San Luis Obispo. Poor Richard’s Press specializes in camera-ready copy prepared by the customer such as a report, a resume, letter or forms to be duplicated. This process is known as Instant Printing. Four offset presses are purchased which are full-automated and can print and bind pages in one operation.
1974: Emmons Blake is working for USAID in Guatemala.
1977: Blake Printery moves to a new location in a 30,000 square foot facility on Bee Bee Street in San Luis Obispo. The Graphic Center provides services from four divisions housed in the space providing the first centralized graphic communications services in the area.
1979: The first Heidelberg Press is purchased to produce high-speed quality color printing for customers at Poor Richard’s locations in San Luis Obispo County.
1980: Richard Blake is licensed as a helicopter pilot.
1980: Richard Blake notes that wine labels on the bottles of local wineries are not attractive visually and he begins to research the wine industry and its marketing potential.
1981: Richard Blake develops his business plan to produce well-designed labels for the wine industry which includes hiring highly skilled employees and purchasing top-quality equipment.
1981: The first wine label produced is for HMR winery, owned and operated by Dr. Stanley Hoffman.
1981: Hars Photo Graphics is founded as the fourth division of Blake Printery.
1981: Helicopter pilot Richard Blake joins the county Sheriff’s Aero Squadron of 40 volunteers to provide search and rescue services. He also provides quick service and deliveries to customers at Blake Printery.
1990: Patrol Deputy Richard Blake works for the Sheriff’s Department for two years, 1990-1992. After that time, he continues to serve on the reserve force.
1990: Richard Blake announces that he will provide a child care facility for his employees. He has plans drawn up for a 1500 square foot modular building to be located on the one-acre site adjacent to the San Luis Obispo Plant The firm will contract with the YWCA to operate an employee daycare center for 25 children from infants to the age of 6. Blake Printery is the first business owner in the county to provide a childcare facility for employees.
1995: The “men from Moldova” arrive at Blake’s Printery on a tour bus. Thirty five men touring California to discover the secrets of California winemaking are referred to the Printery to seek marketing expertise. Moldavian wine labels designed and printed by Blake Printery increase sales of their wines by 300 percent.
1995: Poor Richard’s Press and Blake Printery are located in the company’s headquarters which has expanded to 50,000 square feet. It is located on Bee Bee Street and employs 140 people. The company began investing very heavily in digital printing and copy capabilities. Computer files store digital images which can be changed and updated readily and print a specific number of copies. These copies can be printed, assembled and delivered within a number of hours.
2001: Blake Printery is sold to WS Packaging Group of Algoma, Wisconsin for an undisclosed price. Both companies are privately held. The sale does not include Poor Richard’s Press and its five county offices which will be retained by Richard Blake, former owner and chief executive officer of Blake Printery. Mike Glavin will become President of Blake Printery under the new ownership.
2007: Emmons Blake passes away.