Wine Labels with Spirit(s)

Rows of traditional, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) painted ceramic skulls are on display, in black and white

Bold labels with slightly sinister themes aren’t scaring off wine drinkers, especially those who favor red blends.

“They have attitudes, are maybe a little  bit naughty, and they grab interest next to other wines on the shelf,” says David Shuemann, owner of CF Napa Brand Design, a California branding agency that specializes in the alcoholic beverage industry. “The trend is toward things that are a little mysterious and sexy in some way, and that’s why you see [it] on red blends a lot. They are sexy and mysterious, bolder and brasher.”

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    Sinister Hand

    Owen Roe; Columbia Valley, WA
    Red blend of Rhône varieties
    Designer: Mark Conachan

    Legend has it that during a 17th-century rowing competition between two families over land rights, a competitor in the trailing boat cut off his hand and threw it ashore, thus being the first to touch, and thereby claim, the plot. The ghastly trick worked: The land remains in the family.

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    Reaper Wines; Paso Robles, CA
    Cabernet Sauvignon
    Designed in-house

    Though somewhat macabre, the Goya-esque charcoal sketch of a reaper reflects “the cyclical and interconnected nature of things,” says Ari Walker, president of Integrated Beverage Group, which owns Reaper. “Wine is inseparable from the seasons. When the grapes are reaped, the process can begin anew.” The hand-drawn sketch, Walker says, reflects the wine’s craft sensibility.

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    Ravenswood; Sonoma County, CA
    Red Blend of California
    Heritage Varietals
    Designed in-house

    The ominous sky on the label is the backdrop to a real-life harvest horror story for Winemaker Joel Peterson. In 1976, as a storm moved in, Peterson, then a 29-year-old winemaker working solo, raced to haul in his crates of harvested grapes before the sky opened.

    “Between the clouds and the dust, it seemed like a fruitless task. At that time, two ravens came into the vineyard and started their call—it was surreal and really weird. It rained around me, but not on me, and the ravens stuck with me the whole way. It was mysterious and like magic,” he recalled.

    Besieged pays tribute to both Peterson’s state of mind and the birds he says were his totem.

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    Bogle; California
    Blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre
    Designer: Tony Austin

    Chris Catterton of Bogle Vineyards remembers a 10-year period when winery workers would regularly hear footsteps on the catwalk or see a shadow of work boots walking through the building. It was so eerie that the bottling crew didn’t want to work in the morning, when the apparition was most active. When it was time to name its new wine, Bogle wanted to reference the old-vine Zinfandel that inspired its beginnings, and give a nod to the unknown spirit that haunted the cellar. Rather than portray a ghost, Catterton says, “We wanted it to be kind of haunting through a thought-provoking picture.”

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    The Horned Hare

    Split Rail Winery; Boise, ID
    Designer: Conrad Garner

    The label borrows from a mural that the winery designed for its building in Garden City, an artistic enclave of Boise.

    “I love wine labels that are out of the boxes—a lot are like dogs with ducks in their mouths,” says owner Jed Glavin. “We like to mimic what the craft [beer] industry is doing. They’re more cutting-edge with their labels.”

    Though the skeletons were restrained on the mural, the designer made them front and center on the label. It produces a somewhat Gothic and wacky vibe, says Glavin, in an effort to “get past the traditional concept that [wine] has to be so boutique and structured.”

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    Chronic Cellars

    Paso Robles, CA
    Assorted red blends
    Designer: Joseph Kalionzes

    When brothers Jake and Josh Beckett, whose family owns Peachy Canyon, started their own winery, they wanted “something edgy and fun, and kind of irreverent” that would attract new consumers to their red blends. Kalionzes, a childhood friend, came up with the Day of the Dead theme, and he carved each woodblock by hand. Jake colored the labels himself. “We have unorthodox branding, and my brother is an unorthodox winemaker, so it’s part of our personality and works with our program,” says Jake.

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    Truett Hurst; Russian River Valley, CA
    Pinot Noir
    Designer: Kevin Shaw

    The embellished label of Bewitched uses elaborate fonts reminiscent of the Victorian era, what wine-branding expert David Shuemann calls “contemporary nostalgia.” Winemaker Virginia Lambrix said Bewitched evokes a “femme fatale…sultry at times, sweet at others…but enchanting and romantic.”

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    Curious Beasts

    Truett Hurst; Russian River Valley, CA
    Red blend
    Designer: Kevin Shaw

    Curious Beasts touts itself as a “blood red” wine made from five varieties. Detailed Day of the Dead woodcut stylings wrap the entire bottle in a full-bottle wrap that shrouds the bottle.

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    Murder Ridge

    Murder Ridge Winery; Mendocino Ridge, CA
    Pinot Noir and Zinfandel
    Designer: Amy Alden-Rinaldi

    Owners Leslie Sisneros and Steve Alden created their label to not only leverage the dark history of a 1911 murder on the property, but to reflect their own artistic interests. “We like dark stuff …and we wanted to tie it all in, and crows [are] one of the things we like,” says Sisneros, adding, “They are the harbingers of bad, evil things, and there’s a lot of mystery that surrounds them.” That a group of crows is called a “murder” is the icing on the label, she says.

Published on October 3, 2016
Topics: Holidays