...The More They Stay The Same
As I am sure you are aware there has been a wine label controversy in Alabama that has burned acrossTwitter and the wine blogopshere like an uncontrollable wildfire. Our good friends over at Wineopreneurs had a post about it this week. The quick low down is Cycle's Gladiator wine, produced by Hahn Family Wines in California, uses a vintage 1895 advertising poster for bicycles which features a nude nymph flying beside a winged bike. The liquor control agency in Alabama freaked out and has has told restaurants and stores not to sell the wine. Seems they have too much time on their hands in Alabama.
It really reminds me of the old adage "the more things change the more they stay the same" because this is isn't the first time a wine label has generated so much controversy. Heck, it hasn't even been 20 years since the last time there was a hullabaloo over a wine label. In fact, the last time people got so uptight over a wine label involved an even better known wine from a famous French Bordeaux producer.
In the grand scheme of things the idea of wineries, in this case French wine Château, barrel ageing, bottlling, labeling and marketing their wine is pretty new - less than 100 years old. Until 1924, as in every vineyard in the Médoc, Château Mouton Rothschild wine was sold in casks to a merchant in Bordeaux who had the responsibility of doing all of the above. The owners of the Château took no interest in what the bottle looked like since they didn't have an interest in the finished product. Seems crazy by today's standards doesn't it? In 1924 that all changed.
That Crazy Baron!
The owner of Château Mouton Rothschild, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, decided to take matters into his own hands and bottle the entire harvest before it left the property. Little did he know, or maybe he did, that going forward the label would take on a significant role in marketing the wine and have huge importance from a functional perspective. The label would not only become the trademark of the wine but it would also serve as proof of where it was from.
In France the idea of terroir (micro-climate) has always been important and the label would now gaurantee precise information of origin, quality and uniqueness of the vineyard. The famous cubist artist (we know our art here at PTC) and graphic designer Jean Carlu was commisioned to design the label for the 1924 vintage.
When France was liberated during World War II, thanks to US and Allied forces, the Baron wanted to commemorate the new era of freedom and peace in France with a label on the 1945 vintage (an amazing vintage from what I hear) that signified the historic occassion. It was dedicated to 'Année de la Victoire, the year of the Victory, and a young painter named Philippe Jullian was commissioned to produce a label based on the "V" sign made famous by Winston Churchill during the war.
From that point forward a contemporary artist was commissioned every year to create an original work for each vintage of Château Mouton Rothschild. Here is a link to a pretty cool site where you can view every artist and label from every vintage since 1945. Every artist is free to follow their whim and design a label of their choosing. Here is the best part about getting this gig. The artists are paid no money but get to choose a certain number of cases of wine from two vintages to include the vintage for which they mastered the label. And you think Hardy Wallace has a good job? I wonder if my stick figure drawings will ever qualify for consideration?
It was the 1993 vintage of Château Mouton Rothschild that sparked the controversy. The artist chosen by the Château was Balthasar Klossowski, more commonly known as Balthus. Good move on the name branding change Balthasar - it seems to work for Madonna, TI and Beyonce etc. - you were ahead of your time! Klassowski, errr Balthus, was a highly regarded but controversial Polish-French modern artist. Many of his paintings showed young women in an erotic context. Such was true of the 1993 Mouton Rothschild label.
The label was a sketch type painting of a young woman reclining with her arms stretched above her nude form. While body parts are not in focus or detailed the label sparked enough controversy that Mouton Rothschild was fearful of it being deemed "pornographic" and voluntarily pulled the label from distribution in the United States. It wasn't changed anywhere else. Apparently Mouton Rothschild knew quite well how uptight and puritanical American's could be about anything "naked" and decided to avoid the mess that might ensue. It was a business decision no doubt but one that reverberated through the wine world.
Here are the two labels side by side - pretty sure you can figure out which is which:
So what do you think? Is this simple artisitc rendering of a nude form by a pretty famous artist "pornographic"?
Did the Château over react when deciding to pull the original label, replacing it with a blank label, for US distribution?
What do you think the reaction would be today? What would the tone and intensity of the conversation be like in the current social media environment?