Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Chateau Downunder - Michelle Lovric

Hyping up a product with hints of wickedness and perversion? Sexing up its contents with eye-catching art? A subtitle that teases? Terrible puns? Synaesthesia? Satire? Yes, books and wine have a lot in common. Both are mind-altering stuff. And both advertise their contents with imagery and words, sometimes more creatively than truthfully.

I spent last Christmas in Australia and New Zealand, where wine label art is particularly reminiscent of book jacket design. Antipodean wineries regularly use humour, drama and creative typography to get their wines noticed. A visit to the ‘bottle-shop’, just like a visit to the bookshop, can see the customer staggering out with more than he or she intended to buy, seduced by dazzling label/cover art and text. So here are some of the wines that I ‘read’ or tasted by word-of-mouth on my travels.

The trophy-winning Australian Shiraz of last year is called Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch. The Gatsby-style illustration shows an elegant woman carrying a shotgun. The wine is said to be an ideal accompaniment to game. In contrast, a stark black-and-white drawing of a lone figure announces a Pinot Gris called Innocent Bystander. A sommelier whispered reverently of Dead Red Dog and Two Old Boots, and told me about an American winery called Pompous Ass, with offerings such as Highfalutin Red and Kiss My Ass Blush, illustrated with a girl puckering up to a donkey.

Animals feature strongly in Antipodean wine labelling. There are Chardonnays called Barking Owl and Platypus Play, a Shiraz called Shoo Fly, and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called Cats Pee on a Gooseberry Bush. One Chardonnay Semillon goes by the name Hair of the Dingo.

A Barossa Grenache is simply called Bitch (in an ornate typeface on a pale pink label). The back of the bottle is printed with the word ‘bitch’ 77 times. According to one wine website, Bitch is now the ‘liquid anthem’ for divorces, birthdays and, mysteriously, baby showers.

There are Californian Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays and Merlots called Mad Housewife, with an Edna Everage lookalike on the label. An elegant white label announces a French Chardonnay that goes by the name of Fat Bastard (now joined by Utter Bastard Syrah). Boarding Pass Shiraz’s label is just what it says … on the label. There’s a Californian Chardonnay called White Trash White, from the same stable as Redneck Red. Vampire Vineyards in Romania produce various reds including Dracula. Let’s not forget Marilyn Merlot, made by Marilyn wines in the Napa Valley. There is also Norma Jeane Merlot and Sauvignon Blonde. (All royalties go to the Strasberg Theater Institute and the Anna Freud Foundation.)

South Africa has its famous parody wine labels, Goats do Roam and Bored Doe (say them out loud). And Sicily has satirized the much-advertised Piat d’Or with its own Fiat Door. Abruzzo has The Full Montepulciano. And France has even parodied itself with a Chat-en-Oeuf, illustrated with a cat sitting on an egg. (There’s also Longue-Dog.)

Alcohol labels are more regulated than book covers. But is not the requirement to list the alcohol content a bit like age-ranging? Labels may not lie, according to a ‘bevlog’ I read, but they may contain information that is not necessarily purely factual, just like a book jacket.

How much is its great title A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to do with what’s inside Dave Eggers’ book? Who cares? We all bought the book anyway for the pleasure of its name.

Perhaps wine labels are more honest than book covers? There’s a Spanish Tempranillo called Scraping the Barrel. And in Hungary, a Cserszegi Fuszeres varietal has been christened The Unpronounceable Grape. B Frank’s label asks the giver to complete this phrase: ‘I’m only drinking with you because ……’ There’s an American wine called Adequate Gift. Its label is a form for the giver to fill out: ‘Hope you and …… enjoy this rich red blend! Its fleshy mouthfeel of cherry, coffee and vanilla flavours reminds me of the …… times we’ve had, like the whole ……incident.’

Not a bad idea for the back of a book jacket, is it? Let the punter fill in the blanks! Especially useful in the gift book market.

Just to demonstrate the synergy, book covers can even become wine labels. Elizabeth Gilbert’s paean to me-ness, Eat Pray Love, is now not just a ‘major motion picture’, but also the label for a Pinot Grigio.

But wine and beer labels can also get the ‘publishers’ into trouble. The brewers of a series called Witch’s Wit – in a line of Catholic-themed beers, like Inferno Ale and Judgment Day – decided to use an illustration of a witch being burned at the stake for its new offering, The Lost Abbey. Predictably, the image caused a furore among wiccans, pagans, shamans and others. This generated a great deal of hot air, and the publicity no doubt increased sales.

I suspect similar intentions in the South Australian winery that named its Cabernet Sauvignon simply Evil, printed white-on-black upside down with a dramatic tagline of ‘It’s just wrong’.

During the long summer evenings to come, I’m planning to drink a lot of books and read a lot of wine. You’re all invited to submit tasting suggestions.


Michelle Lovric’s website

See the new video trailer for The Undrowned Child and The Mourning Emporium on YouTube

The Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch series of wine has its own website, including a picture gallery showing their butchery course.

The lovely Chat-en-Oeuf illustration comes from the beautiful Arts Parts clip art site

An excellent site for wine labels, including many that I could not mention on a site for writers of children’s books, is this one


catdownunder said...

If you can find a copy in Upover (and have not already read it) I would strongly recommend Colin Thiele's absolutely classic book (semi-autobiographical) about growing up in the Barossa just before WWII "Sun on the Stubble". It is a wonderful picture of life Downunder among our German migrants in our premier wine growing region. Wine to go with it? A nice light one from the Barossa I suppose - am allergic to alcohol so know nothing about it...I am sure you can find something!)Purrs from Downunder

Sue Purkiss said...

Fascinating - a whole new area to be fconscientiously studied!

michelle lovric said...

Dear Cat, the book sounds beautiful. As a child learning German at school in Australia, I was taken to the Barossa Valley to see the German villages and taste the German applecake and talk German with the descendants of those migrants. We were not, however, allowed to taste the wine of course.
Poor you, allergic to alcohol. But at least there's still chocolate, I hope?

Kathleen Jones said...

Can't help remembering the immortal (and rather rude) song from Monty Python:
"Aristotle, Aristotle was a b****r for the bottle.
Hobbes was fond of his dram,
And René Descartes was a drunken fart.
'I drink, therefore I am.'"

Have just embarked on 'The Philosopher's Guide to Wine Drinking' - so I can read and drink at the same time!

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

Now this is a work-related subject that's worth researching!