Street artist and sommelier Joe Iurato honed his two crafts side by side, studying wine and working in the trade while creating street art, stencil work and graffiti. His artwork has since been displayed in public spaces, from New York and New Jersey to Miami and Montreal, all while working in the wine business. Iurato was able to combine his passions in one project when 13th & Third Wines owners’ Gregg and Julie Rothberg asked him to design labels for their inaugural releases.
How did you first get interested in wine?
When I was 18 years old, I was working in a small, family-run BYOB Italian restaurant. Myself and the two brothers whose family owned the place would save the remnants of wines left behind so we could taste them at the end of each shift. We’d squeeze the last drops from the bottles, just enough to differentiate between a Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Something clicked, though, and together we quickly developed a passion for food and wine. That’s how I caught the bug.
What are the parallels between the creation of art and the creation of wine?
I feel they’re one in the same, and I think that’s why I’m so intimately connected to both worlds. I look at wine through the same lens as I do a painting or a drawing or a poem. It’s creative expression. A winemaker is given sun, soil, and vine but the canvas remains blank until she begins her work. Like art, there are styles and techniques, blueprints created by masters that have been widely studied and revered. But it’s all subject to interpretation. At the end of the day, the choices made by the winemaker will determine the character of a wine and how we’re meant to experience it. That’s art.
Art and Wine Through Time
1503—56, The Last Supper Girolamo da Santacroce; oil on panel, Italy
1605—40, Young Man Drinking a Glass of Wine, Jan van Bijlert; oil on canvas, Netherlands
Are you still working in wine?
I’m the wine director for The River Palm Terrace in Edgewater, New Jersey. While I can’t commit to a full-time restaurant position, they allow me to work mostly behind the scenes in developing and maintaining the wine program, educating service staff and management, and hosting wine events.
How did the label collaboration with 13th & Third Wines come about?
The owners of the winery, Gregg and Julie Rothberg, grew up in New York City and have been longtime admirers of graffiti and street art. They were familiar with my work and felt it would lend itself well to what they were trying to achieve. Besides making great wine, they wanted to tell the story of who they are and where they’re from in a way that felt true to their roots. So their idea of featuring street art on the label was the initial spark.
Is there a connection between the people on the 13th & Third labels and the wine in the bottle?
Gregg and Julie had a clear vision for honoring passed members of their family by featuring them on the labels. The Rosé of Grenache features Julie’s grandfather. The artwork was created from a photo taken of him back in 1920 on the eve of Prohibition. The 2016 Lily, a white Rhône-style blend, features Gregg’s grandmother Lily. It’s my understanding they chose her for this label because she was as beautiful, stylish and vibrant as the wine. The 2015 NMR is a GSM blend, and features Gregg’s dad. “NMR” is his father’s initials. Gregg’s father was an artisan who founded a graphic design agency in NYC, but also ventured into drawing, sculpture and furniture making. The wine is so complex it requires full attention of details to really understand it, much like viewing a piece of art. And so that label belonged to his father.