• Steven Heller

Fruit Of The Ink

Wine labels are a special breed of graphic design with a long history. . . so long I went to the site Bottle Your Brand to find out where the ancestors of these specimens came from:

“It is commonly believed that wine was introduced in Greece around 4000 BC and there are artifacts that point to it being a part of Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations,” so says the BYB historians. “Wine was considered to be a gift from the gods by the ancient Greeks, many of whom worshiped Dionysus, the god of wine.”

But did the god of vino know a good label designer? “In the tomb of King Tutankhamen (d.1352 BC.) wine jars were discovered that had wine labels with enough details to meet some present day countries’ existing wine label laws.” Forget about W.A. Dwiggins calling graphic artists “graphic designers” in 1922, graphic design may have emerged before Christ.

Well, at least “The oldest hand written wine label on record was from French monk Pierre Perignon. This wine label was made of parchment and tied to the neck of a bottle with a piece of string.” Could Dom Perignon have been a designer? It makes one all bubbly to think about.

“In the 1700’s, with the introduction of glass bottles and the multiple varieties of wine being produced,” continue the BYB experts, “there was a need to identify wines for their origin and their quality. This is the best explanation of the birth of the modern wine label”. So . . . . “The first crude method of label construction involved designing the wine label on a stone then passing an ink roller over it to produce the label.”

But really, the first “modern” printed wine labels took place in 1798. This was the year Czechoslovakian Alois Senefelder invented lithography. “Lithography allowed for printing wine labels in mass quantities. With the introduction of lithography most wine producers preferred wine labels in a rectangular shape that allowed room for increased information about the wine.”

From then on the classic wine, spirits (and soft drink) labels began to evolve. Forget liking or still liking beer as it is “Wine, which cheereth gods and men. -Judges 9:13”

For more detailed and less tipsy history go here.

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