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The Art and Design of Contemporary Wine Labels (December 7, 2010)

book review
by Dean Tudor, www.deantudor.com

The Art and Design of Contemporary Wine Labels (Santa Monica Press, 2010, 287 pages, ISBN 978-1-59580-046-6, $50 CAD hard covers) is by Tanya Scholes, a Toronto-based graphic designer and packager.

Michael Mondavi contributes an enlightening foreword which is more an essay on both wine label design and how Robert Mondavi came to design his iconic arch and tower label in 1966. Scholes has a couple of essays on the history of wine design. Other than that, it is a straight-ahead but eclectic collection of some 213 wineries from both the Old and the New World, although there are more from the latter.

Each is given a page or two, and some of the larger or more innovative wineries are given a spread to cover more than one label. There is enough text to describe the run-up to the label design (remember: the labels speak for themselves, since each is worth 1,000 words). Wherever she can, Scholes uses the designer's or owner's own words to describe the label. She needed here, and elsewhere, to expound more on the artistic influences behind the selection and why she picked it and not another. At the bottom of each description, there is a box with the salient details of region, country or origin, type of wine, website, designer name, and designer's website.

The icons are here, such as Rothschild (both Mouton and Opus One), but there are also labels from Bouza Bodega in Uruguay and Barkan in Israel. I was not attracted to M by Mondavi, but it helped that he wrote the book's foreword. I am not quite sure why Dr. Loosen is here, since it is "old style" and only serves to reinforce the notion that German wine labels never change.

There are so many good wine labels out there: I could pick my own 213 wineries, Tony Aspler could pick his own 213, and you could pick your own 213. And we'd probably have no duplicates. But it is great that she did it, for now we have something to work with.

If there is one theme running through here, then it is the theme of whimsy. Whimsy sells things, no matter what the product. Making fun of the industry and yourself sells things. For Ontario, for once – beyond icewines – there seems to be popular acclaim. We have a disproportionate number of wineries covered, such as Sibling Rivalry, Megalomaniac, Malivoire, Southbrook, Foreign Affair, Five Rows Craft Wine, and Truffle Pig. For BC, there is Ex Nihilo, Dirty Laundry, Therapy (with its Rorschach inkblots), Mission Hill, Artisan, and Blasted Church. That's 13!

The old paper label that floats off when the bottle is chilled in ice, the one with the gothic typeface and mismatched colours (a lot like the Loosen label here), is soon to disappear. Even the cheapest Montepulciano d'Abruzzo in Ontario has a spiffy new, compelling and eye-appealing name and label.

If I had one major criticism of the book, it is that there is no index. Some of the wineries have several lines of wines, and these need to be cross-referenced. For example, Sibling Rivalry comes from Henry of Pelham (no entry), StraightJacket Winery has a line called Strait Jacket (close, but no cigar: speaking of which, where is the label for Le Cigare Volant??), Layer Cake (no entry) comes from Pure Love Wine, and Poetica (no entry) is from Southbrook. It would also be useful in this index to have all the names of the winery owners and the designers in one placed. Page 288 is blank, and the index could have been done there. Just a thought.

Audience and level of use: for the inveterate wine collector, and the graphic designer's library.

Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: Mondavi reports that there are 127,000 approved labels in the US alone.

The downside to this book: I wish Scholes had devoted more space to wine label design competitions, which I think is a fascinating area. Some websites could have been useful, or lists of winners and medals.

The upside to this book: a perfect gift for the wine lover.

Quality/Price Rating: 91.

 

 

 

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