News Column

Wine and art

July 16, 2014

By Marta Hepler Drahos, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

July 16--TRAVERSE CITY -- The Grand Traverse region is known for its fine art and wine, yet the two seldom meet when it comes to labels.

So could area wineries be missing the boat?

"Art on wine labels definitely plays an important role," said Shawn Harvey, wine steward at Burritt's Fresh Market. "I can't tell you how many people come in and hold up a bottle with a label they like and say, 'Is this good?'

"It might be the deciding factor in why they pick it up. And if I'm not there to give them a recommendation, chances are greater than 50 percent that they're going to take it. But they still want to know what's in the bottle is good."

Commissioning artists to create images for their labels has been a popular design strategy of larger vineyards on the West Coast since the 1970s, said one expert. Often the images portray the area's scenic wine country, like the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.

"That strategy is well accepted in terms of a wine label design that would imply a higher-end wine or premium quality," said Mark Ganchiff, editor of Chicago-based Midwest Wine Press. "I have not seen as many in the Midwest."

Many area wineries dabbled in the past with labels featuring the work of fine artists and some still use the labels on a handful of their wines. But most, like Chateau Chantal and Black Star Farms, prefer to work with graphic artists for a consistent look. Other considerations include artist fees, ownership rights, licensing fees relating to prints, and the fact that not all fine art translates to micro formats the size of 3- or 4-inch wine labels.

"Probably the main reason is for the consistency of our label," said Laura Judd, winery administrator for Black Star, whose Artisan Red is its only wine to use label images by artists like Stephanie Schlatter of Grand Rapids. "When our wines are distributed throughout the state and out of state, people are used to seeing a certain label and knowing it's that late harvest Riesling they like. And each label has to go through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and be approved."

Consumer connection to labels is even more important for wine sold in regional shops than it is for wine sold in restaurants, Harvey said.

"You've got a wall of wine so you have to have a label that will stand out and be noticed but it has to be consistent," he said. "A lot of the artists who are being used for local labels will change year to year and It's very difficult to build brand and recognition when you're changing labels all the time."

Chateau Chantal worked in conjunction with Artcenter Traverse City to obtain fine art work for 2006 and 2008 "special label wines," both semi-dry Rieslings sold partially as fundraisers for the art center.

Since then the winery has not worked with fine artists, though it sponsored label design contests for graphic design students at TBAISD Career-Tech Center and keeps spindles of left-over labels in its tasting room for collectors.

Painter Jerry Gates, whose oil pastel-over-acrylic abstracted landscape graced 500 bottles of that 2008 wine, believes few area wineries work with fine artists because "it gets in the way of their production."

"They have to work with photographers and printers, which is kind of expensive, then put the labels on," said Gates, of Acme Township. "Still I'm surprised that there are not more vineyards in the area doing this because they're all local. There could be some really beautifully inventive wine labels. It wouldn't have to be area landscapes. I know that's a big hit up here. People like to buy things with images of Leelanau County. But it could be a non-objective piece."

Besides established, nationally-known artists like Gates and painter Charles Murphy of Traverse City, whose tall ship images adorn labels on Leelanau Cellars' Tall Ship series, area wineries could choose from hundreds of emerging artists.

Artcenter Traverse City has more than 300 members and many of them could benefit from the kind of exposure a wine label could give them, said board president Paul LaPorte.

"I wish it were a more developed idea because it's a good one," he said.


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Source: Record-Eagle, The (Traverse City, MI)

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