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Label Art

A wine’s label can tell you something about the winery, or its sense of humor.


"Emblem: A visible symbol of a thing” — Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition.

The most commonly encountered wine label today is the graphic artist’s work, that of an emblem to symbolize a winery or a region. Gabrielle Meffre’s Croze Hermitage bottling complete with an emblem of a grape picker during the Middle Ages announces the essence of European design. It is simple and complete. The wine itself tastes like the syrah grape of Europe, not of the New World.

One of the most compelling modern emblems from America is the Ravenswood Zinfandel label, the three interlocking ravens resembling a Pacific Northwest Indian totem. The graphic designer, David Lance Goines, was a poster artist from Berkeley. His early work could be seen locally on album covers and menus. The wine itself is very modern in style, capturing the fruit of the zinfandel grape. If there was a start of the new tattoo craze, this label is a place to look. It captures coolness and tension.

“Art: Creative work or its principles; a making or doing of things that display form, beauty, and unusual perception …” — Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition.

A highly creative artist’s label on a wine bottle takes a lot of imagination, time, money and risk. There is always the thought that none of this will be recouped. Today the winery that best exemplifies the artistic spirit is Peter Lehmann from the Barossa Valley in Australia. Peter Lehmann himself is an icon of Australian wine. His labels regularly feature the queen of clubs — the gambler’s card. In the early days he saved the local independent grape growers from economic disaster by purchasing their grapes. The early gambles paid off and his winery is one of the Barossa Valley’s finest.

His artistic and winemaking masterpiece, the Eight Songs Shiraz, is an eight-label, commissioned set. We know where the finest grapes from those fiercely loyal growers went. At $65 a bottle, it is a work of art inside and out.

“Kitsch: — Art, writing, etc., of a pretentious but shallow kind, calculated to have popular appeal …” — Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition.

You should carry a little bobble-headed doll to compare kitschy wine labels. The Bully Hill Winery of New York created the genre with a phantasmagoria of wild and wildly bad designs. Today, the major bearer of the kitsch torch is Chateau Morrisette. Their “Our Dog Blue,” a completely nondescript sweet white from any grape anywhere is a lesson to kitsch winery wannabes: Put it in a blue bottle and someone will buy it.

The Black Dog is my absolute favorite kitsch label. It lists no grape varieties, or more importantly, where those mysterious grapes come from. The only information of any sort on the label is about the black dog, who appears to be drinking wine from a glass. Perhaps he is confused, too. S

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