Imagine a wine tasting with over 300 bottles to savor, delectable barbecue, and clinking glasses with friends you haven’t kibbitzed with in over a year. The last time I saw Kelly, we were bareboating in the Caribbean. She was the first to strip off her bikini top. Arty has a penchant for snorkeling naked at midnight, and then, there’s the wierd guy with the shoe fetish. While we all have different pasttimes–today we have one thing in common, tasting wines. And we are doing it in a very big way. Each June we convene here at Pooch’s after-the-fair wine bash. He is the director of the California State Fair Wine Competition, and ends up with hundreds of cases of open bottles. On the final day, he brings them home and has the world’s biggest backyard wine party. For most of the guests, it’s an opportunity to taste California wines in multitude. For me, it’s a place to see a whole lotta labels, some found only in tasting rooms and boutique wine shops, others that are new to the marketplace.
Over thirty cases of bottles are set up on long tables winding around the house. There are white stickers on the bottles left over from the judging. The more stickers there are, the more rounds the wine went in the competition. This gives guests a hint of which wines were popular with the judges.
Four labels caught my eye:
Darcie Kent Pinot Noir
Oooh Factor: 175
I was bowled over by the quiet grace of this label. It turns out Darcie, owner of the Livermore Valley winery, is also an artist of renown. Her paintings can be found on several wine labels, including E.J. Gallo and The Four Seasons Hotels. Every element of her Pinot Noir label is deftly handled with a quiet elegance, showcasing a jewel of an illustration. What could have been another expected vineyard scene is so much more with Darcie’s impressionistic brushwork and hot sunny colors. Her signature serves as the winery logo and is beautiful, readable and punctuated with flair. In the pinot label, she wanted to convey the characteristic of single vineyard wines and the romance of all that goes into the bottles. The pebbly, sandy soil, the hot sun of the day, the ever present winds of Livermore Valley and the protective arms of West Pinnacle Peaks. The wine will officially roll out in January, so we are among the first to see it.
Sweet Maggie Muscat
Arty brought this label to my attention. Here’s what happens when you put a face on a wine bottle. A risky concept in package design because it limits the audience you are speaking to, more about that in another article. In this case we have an odd juxtaposition of portrait over vineyard. Out of the context of the tasting room, I’m not sure why I should care about this sweet, well to do, aging white woman in a teal hat. Is she a celebrity I somehow missed on tv? Maybe she’s a philanthropist, donating great sums to the less fortunate. Maybe she’s an angel. The epic burst of sunrays overtaking the vineyard certainly indicate she’s done something heavenly. Some say I’m being too easy on her, no matter the story, the label did its work. Out of over 300 bottles, Arty chose Sweet Maggie because it so amused him. Actually, when he tasted the wine found he really loved it. In fact, he took the rest of the bottle home. Sweet Maggie Muscat, produced by South Coast Winery, has medaled several times and retails for $52 a bottle. Based on the two white stickers from the competition, it may medal at the State Fair this year too. Jargon Pinot Noir
Oooh Factor: 150
What fun! Its humor appealed to me, being the type maven that I am. The back label prose is as tongue-in-cheek as the design on the front, basically saying that instead of going on and on, they invite the reader to cut through the complicated wine speak and just enjoy good wine. Yeah, good point. The wine must have lived up to the label’s hype because the bottle was empty by the time I got to it.
Twisted Cabernet Sauvignon and Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel
Oooh Factor: 150
These two brands are among six owned by the Indelicato family (DFV Wines). The saucy labels look related, but they are designed by different artists. Both appeal in a casual, tongue-in-cheek, “I drink this wine, I must be cool” sort of way. Brazin is fairly new to the marketplace, and also prepares for an official rollout in January. Twisted is a label refresh that has been around for about two years. I have to say, it was a near perfect day in dappled sunshine. Arty and Kelly kept their clothes on. The guy with the shoe fetish made contact again (“My, these shoes are a completely different style for you aren’t they?”). I feasted on labels galore and also reinstated a design rule of mine: never put a face on a label. Thanks Pooch, for another lovely afternoon, spent sipping and savoring with old friends and new. I can’t wait until the Grape and Gourmet where the competition winners will be announced.