Virginia Bottle Art: Crazy Labels and Great Stories
By Matt Fitzsimmons
Virginia Bottle Art: Crazy Labels and Great Stories
All bottle art is designed to grab your attention, but the best ones convey a message. Some highlight a good cause. Others explain the winery’s heritage. A few just want to make you laugh. Regardless, if the art causes you to say “I MUST have that bottle,” then it did its job.
As Virginia has nearly 300 wineries – each offering up to a dozen bottles each – there’s a lot of bottle art to choose from. But here are some of the best.
- Blenheim Vineyard’s “On The Line”: This limited release white blend of Viognier, Chasseas Doré, and Rkatsiteli has perhaps the most timely bottle art you can ask for. The Dave Matthews designed label features a medical professional in full mask, in honor of those who are on the proverbial front lines fighting against COVID-19.
By itself, this is a great tribute. But what makes it extra special is part of the proceeds are donated to Frontline Foods and the World Central Kitchen, known around the globe as “Food First Responders”.
- The Cameo Collection (Effingham Manor, Pearmund Cellars, Philip Carter Winery, and Vint Hill Winery): This collection doesn’t stop with one label – it has twelve.
The Cameo Collection was released in February, 2020 as part of the centennial celebration of the passage of the 19th Amendment. The art includes portraits of luminaries from Virginia’s history such as Ella Fitzgerald and Martha Washington, plus a description of their contributions in areas ranging from the arts, business, medicine, or historical significance.
- Forever Farm’s Boykin Blend: The story of the Boykin Blend is both sad and uplifting. George was a Boykin Spaniel who accompanied his human parents Bob and Teri Riggs when they moved to Virginia in 2016. Unfortunately, George crossed over the rainbow bridge the following year.
Yet George’s memory lives on. Bob named his first wine in honor of George, even picturing him on the label. Not only that, $1 of every bottle is donated to the Boykin Spaniel Rescue foundation.
- Iron Heart Winery: Iron Heart’s name is double-edged; it’s in honor of the location’s history as a steel mill, and the strength of character of the women who once owned the farm. But their wine labels are some of the most unique in the state – Iron Heart uses friends, employees & family members as models.
To date around 30 labels have been made, but one recent favorite is their Jackpot. $20 of every $30 bottle will go to the New River Community College Access to Community College Education (ACCE) program. It’s a great label for a great cause, but the artwork on every bottle is a home run.
- Jefferson Vineyards: Wine geeks are familiar with the story of a ‘secret stash’ of French wines that were (allegedly) owned by President and wine aficionado Thomas Jefferson, based on the initials “Th. J.” ascribed on the bottles. Unfortunately (for the buyer), these bottles were later judged to be fakes. Even worse (for the seller), billionaire William Koch had purchased one of them…and Koch was not forgiving for having been duped.
Koch would have been better off buying a bottle from Jefferson Vineyards, located adjacent to Jefferson’s home of Monticello. Unlike the infamous bottle of 1787 Lafite, Jefferson Vineyard’s bottles can boast they actually utilize a copy of Thomas Jefferson’s signature.
- Lightwell Survey: Lightwell Survey is a small venture based in Waynesboro, VA, made by Early Mountain Vineyards winemaker Ben Jordan. It prides itself on ‘being weird’, and it’s not just because of the crazy blends. Seriously, who thought a Blaufränkisch & Riesling blend would be so delicious?
The illustrations are creative and moody, ranging from werewolves in trench coats to wine-making clowns. Perhaps unique amongst Virginia bottle art, each vintage’s label continues the story from the previous year. Looking at a collection of different vintage labels feels like you’re reading a neo-punk comic book.
- Pearmund Cellars Black Ops: One look at this pitch-black bottle and you’ll know you’re dealing with a badass wine. Only a handful of people know the composition of this Bordeaux-blend, made as a tribute to the U.S. Special Operations community.
Owner Chris Pearmund explained he named one of his best wines after the most elite in our military. He also donates part of the proceeds to the Code of Support Foundation, which provides essential assistance to struggling service members, veterans and their families.
- Vint Hill Craft Winery: Vint Hill traces its lineage to a World War II signal intelligence station which picked up radio traffic as far away as Germany and the Pacific. The tasting room stands on the same grounds, shared by the Cold War Museum.
Many of Vint Hill’s wine labels are based on wartime ‘nose art’, which often decorated American aircraft as a symbol of good luck, remembering loved ones, or a way of building morale. Now, this art is used to maintain a connection to that time.
- Walsh Family Wine’s What Will The Women Drink?: “WWTWD” has perhaps the most empowering story on this list. It came about when a customer proceeded to mansplain to co-owner Sarah Walsh how she could make improvements to her winery. When Sarah tried to explain how wine slushies really weren’t their thing, he asked “But what will the women drink”? Needless to say, Sarah wasn’t having any of that – and an idea was born.
The artwork is drawn in a way that any woman could see herself depicted, with “What Will The Women Drink?” labeled prominently. Part of its proceeds goes to the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter.
- Well Hung Vineyards: The bottle art of Well Hung is a cheeky rebuttal to the sexualized imagery women often see in the advertising world. It started as a joke between two friends, when one held up some grapes and asked “What does this remind you of?” eliciting the response “Well hung!”. A third later recognized the potential of a brand name, and together this trio made their first vintage in 2009.
The label is based on a photo of three men standing behind a row of vines with grapes hung at…strategic locations. It’s since been featured by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in their exhibition “How Wine Became Modern: Design & Wine 1976 to Now”.
Author: Matthew Fitzsimmons is a wine blogger well on his way to visiting every one of Virginia’s nearly 300 wineries. Track his progress on https://winetrailsandwanderlust.com/.