Rockin’ Wines from Washington

On a recent sailing trip I stopped by a liquor store in Anacortes Washington. Before heading out, I wanted to pick up some Bombay Sapphire for our provisions. As usual, I was lured to the wine section even though I left my designer’s cap back in California. I was surprised by an array of wine labels I had not come across before. How had I missed these wines from the state of Washington?


It was Steak House Red that called to me first. Bold, brash and simple. Then Fish House White and Red Table Wine beckoned. If a wine could talk, they yelled at me from across the store. They weren’t pretty; they were just plain fun in a sort of sarcastic way. Who are these guys anyway?

The Magnificent Wine Company produced all with grapes from Washington’s Columbia Valley. The brand was created in 2001 by a bold character named Charles Smith. His larger than life personality is the driving force behind these brashly practical labels. He is also owner and winemaker of another brand, Charles Smith Wines, for which he has been named 2009 Winemaker of the Year. All of his labels wear this crude, no-nonsense style. His website tells it better than I ever could:

“Owner-winemaker Charles Smith with his big hair, kick ass attitude and bold packaging arrived in the Walla Walla Valley following eleven years in Scandinavia managing rock bands…he has been involved with wine personally and professionally his entire life.” (Charles Smith Wines):

To quote Charles: “It’s just booze – drink it!”


His concept is to squeeze the purest flavors possible from the grapes. This mandate drives the brand identity, requiring as direct a message as possible. No special effects in either the wine or the graphics. No extraneous doodads that have nothing to do with the grapes.

Somehow, with no formal training, Charles Smith is a master at winemaking and a genius at marketing. The theme steadfastly extends across all marketing material down to the Surgeon General’s warning, which is also roughly hand lettered. They represent perfect examples of how the brand message is an integral part of every aspect of a company.


Left and middle, neckers     Right, tasting notes

Left and middle, neckers. To the right, tasting notes.

Smith’s designer is friend, Rikke Korff, a native of Denmark. The Danes reign supreme in minimalist design. She was lead designer for Levi-Strauss for ten years and is credited for bringing them from the brink of disaster in around 2001. (Rikke). She now runs her own company, Korff Kounsil.

“My style of design has always been and is always rooted in the pure perspective of functionality, timelessness & simplicity. I blend that well with the guts & raw directness of rock n’ roll to create future icons and cult brands.”

- Rikke Korff

The Magnificent Wines are a bold contrast to everything in the bev aisle. In design there is a fine line between minimalist and generic. These wine labels seem to walk it well, communicating their $10, wine-for-every-day value without quite looking cheap. Their in-your-face honesty is geared toward the young crowd, but have universal appeal to anyone with a sense of humor (irony?). The buzz around these wines promises great stuff inside the bottle too. That’s something to shout about.

Next post: Charles Smith’s Modernist wines.


Paula Sugarman is owner and creative director of Sugarman Design Group, a California graphic design studio specializing in brand identity, wine label design and food package design.


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