The final finesse on a bottle of wine is the art of the wine label. The identifying marker...peaking personal amusement for the eccentric winemaker, inviting proliferation for a designer or artist, providing the conversation piece in a basement cellar...the label tells the story of the wine.
This page is dedicated to the winemakers that not only lend their heart and soul to the juice in the bottle, but also to those responsible for the design on the bottle. After all, for the consumer and collector...presentation is (almost) everything. Label requirements have become very strict and vary greatly by region, but it is universally believed that the beauty of the label reflects the divinity of the wine inside.
A Brief History of Wine Labels
Although wine is believed to have originated in ancient Greece, it was the ancient Egyptians who first recorded label details that are still required by law today; including vintage, growing region or vineyard, and winemaker. This can be dated back to 1352 BC when buried with Egypt’s King Tut, were jars of wine with detailed etchings. These bottles were unearthed in 1922 by archeologist Howard Carter.
Some early label designs were simply small identifying pieces of parchment tied with string around the neck. Later identifiers included carvings in the base of a pewter stand describing the region of the wine. In the 18th century, depictions of life were described with imagery, much like history’s great paintings. This brings us to our first study, the infamous Chateau Mouton Rothschild. (Label Above Designed by Pablo Picasso in 1973)
Groundbreaking Innovators: Mouton-Rothschild
One of the most sought after, prized, collected, and prolific wine brands of all time is Mouton Rothschild. The long-standing tradition of the quality of the wine was surpassed only by the early marketing techniques applied to the brand by the founder’s predecessor (and great-grandson) Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
In the 1920’s, marketing wines with beautiful labels was one of many ambitious moves by Philippe de Rothschild to propel and modernize his winery. Philippe enlisted important artists of the time to create original designs to enhance the marketing ability of the wines. This became a permanent practice of the winery in 1946, and the tradition has only been broken a couple of times since for special commemorations. (Label Above Designed By Robert Wilson, 2001)
In 1993, French painter Balthus Klossowski de Rola was commissioned to submit original art for the label – a design of his choosing. He created a line drawing of a nude woman. His art was rejected for distribution in the United States, so Philippe put out the vintage with a blank label honoring Balthus’ work – a notable snub to conservative US importing laws, and an immediate value driver to collectors.