John Farrell was born on Long Island, New York in 1944 and grew up in Minneapolis/St. Paul where his family had moved in early 1945. He had an early interest in art and design and started doing commercial design work while still in high school and continued to support himself as a designer in college. He attended the University of Minnesota. from 1962 through 1964 when he transferred to California State University-Hayward, from which he graduated after majoring in Art/Design. After college he moved to Denver to take a design position and then, in 1971, started a business there. In 1972 he did graduate work in design at Denver University, but did not receive a degree. Mr. Farrell wanted to return to California and in 1974 he followed his dream, settling in the Napa Valley.
Mr. Farrell started working out of his home, visiting local printers to find out who was working with them. When the printers told him "the wineries" he started talking to wine people. He said that he found a real need in Napa to put together packaging and help what were then local farming people with small businesses. Because of his skills, he was able to offer his clients a complete package, from the start of the design process to the finish.
Ralph Colonna was also born on the East Coast, in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania in 1937. His family moved to California in 1944 when his father was transferred there and he grew up in the Upland, Ontario area of the Los Angeles Basin. He majored in advertising and graphic design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California in 1957-58, but did not graduate. From 1958 to 1961 Mr. Colonna worked for a number of design firms, until he started his own firm in Westwood in 1961. The firm moved a number of times as it grew to its maximum size of forty people. He sold the studio in 1971 and moved to the Napa Valley where he opened a gourmet cookware store, which still exists, at "Vintage 1870", an old warehouse and winery, in Yountville. While he had the store, Mr. Colonna did some graphics work for other stores in the area. The store was sold in 1978 so he could concentrate on the design business that he had started with Mr. Farrell.
John Farrell and Ralph Colonna met in 1974 and John Farrell showed his work to Ralph Colonna, who liked the work. In 1975 Mr. Colonna said he had been asked to make a presentation for a package design system to Domaine Chandon, which was just being built. Mr. Colonna and Mr. Farrell collaborated on the presentation, but did not get the job. However they enjoyed working together and decided to work together on some other projects though they kept their businesses independent.
Messrs. Farrell and Colonna started to share work space and costs in 1975 and in 1976 decided to go into business in St. Helena together. In those early days, it was easy to set up a design shop and Mr. Farrell likes to say that it could be done for less than $100, as all that was needed was a T square and a drawing board.
Jeffery Caldewey had an office in the same building and was also doing early label design. In 1976 they all decided to join forces to avoid useless competition. Initially the company was a partnership called Colonna, Caldewey, Farrell: Designers. When Mr. Caldewey left the company in 1982 and went out on his own, the name of the business was changed to Colonna, Farrell: Design, the name under which it operated until October, 1999 when the name was changed to CF.NAPA. The business was incorporated in California in 1981 under the name of Design Research Institute Inc. As the company grew, it moved several times in St.Helena and in October, 1999 it moved to Napa after merging with LA6A, which also has offices in Cincinnati, Chicago and New York.
Once Messrs. Colonna and Farrell established themselves as credible package designers, many area wineries wanted to get to know them and their company. The company put together presentations and the principals went to various wineries to promote themselves. In effect they were salesmen as well as designers, but it enabled them to build relationships with various well known wineries such as Beringer, Mondavi, and Sutter Home, even though they might not be the sole supplier of design.
The wine business, however, began to change. New owners came in, many of whom had not been in the wine business before but had been doctors, brokers, etc. They were often looking for a life style change more than they were trying to make a lot of money. The idea was to live in a beautiful place and have a small business. Colonna, Farrell worked with these new people and they became a large part of the company's business.
The early Colonna Farrell designs parroted what was being done in French labeling at the time. This was a traditional look and helped establish credibility. But this changed for a number of reasons: the wineries wanted to look different from each other and Colonna, Farrell: Design didn't want to be identified with any particular "look". This led the company to establish relationships with various designers, illustrators, photographers and artists in general, in order to make its product designs more unique, a practice that continues to this day, though most of the design work is created by employees of the company.
After a while, many of the larger wineries began to be acquired by companies that were not from the Napa Valley. Often these were large conglomerates or distilleries such as Hiram Walker and Seagrams and the wineries were only a small portion of their business. This changed the complexion of many established wineries.
It also changed the way Colonna, Farrell did business, as the headquarters of the parent companies often were not in the Napa Valley. Messrs. Farrell and Colonna felt they had to pursue business where the headquarters were. This meant traveling to meet the decision makers and impress them with the company's range of services. It also led to new types of work for the company, though the focus was still in beverages. Most importantly, it meant that the principals did less and less design work and more and more sales and marketing and administration. But it also led to creating a business that was not totally dependent on the principals.
At the same time the nature of design work was changing. When the company was started, most of the work was done by hand, but today computers play a much larger role in the design process. A similar pivotal change was occurring in the printing industry as new technology allowed labels to change from simple rectangular shapes to die cuts, embossing, foil stamps, and other fanciful and complex techniques.
The company is now also involved in packaging design so that every facet of the identity of the winery is controlled. This includes, in addition to the labels, packaging, bottle shape, shipper cartons, gift packs, and promotional materials. The company also has the capability of dealing with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and comparable regulators overseas. The business is still evolving and is now going beyond design into marketing and Colonna, Farrell, as a leader in the industry, is also evolving.