A True “Art”-isan

About two years back, in a moment of acute twenty-something irresponsibility, I took it upon myself to roll the dice, and spend the five thousand dollars that I didn’t have to take my  then long term girlfriend on a weeklong trip to the art capital of the world, Paris. Logan was returning home for summer break after her third year of studying Art History at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and I had just secured my first position within the wine industry.  After convincing myself that this trip would be equally beneficial to both us, the proposal of said trip to Logan and its commencement were really nothing but a formality.

All was going well until our brief layover at London’s Heathrow Airport, which happened to be the setting of our first, and only, British meal.  We were twenty minutes into our short connecting flight to Paris when I was barraged by combination of nausea, fever, dizziness and vomiting.  Oh, did mention I wasn’t feeling well.

What was I thinking?!?!?!

Logan must have figured out the rental-car and navigation to the hotel because the next thing I knew it was the next morning and I was lying in bed in a feverish-sweat. She told me that a doctor had come to see me the previous evening and diagnosed me with a bout of food poisoning, which I am told is “quite common” after ingesting dodgy English airport food. The necessary remedy as explained to me was “resting in bed for a better part of the week”. This to me translated as the duration of the entire trip. Disappointed and on the verge of death, my mind switched to the two major tasks at hand: setting up my laptop for internet connection, and attaining access to the mini-bar cabinet at the foot of my bed. Logan set up the former before venturing out to the city and my eyes fixated squarely upon the mini-bar. It seemed that I could depend upon its contents to do one of two things: muffle the buzz saw that had taken residence in my head, or, perhaps, kill me? After gathering all of my remaining strength, I, with a single, heroic move, tugged the carpet with just enough force to move the cabinet close enough to reach.  In the process of retrieving my “medication”, I noticed the brilliant design on the front of the chest.  Serendipitously, it appeared to be an imposed wine label. After closer inspection I found it was a fabrication of the 1958 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, one of, if not the most sought after of all the first growth Bordeaux’s.

It was at that moment Logan returned and I showed her what I had found.  Always thinking of her, I was actually excited to show her the design that I had discovered. After her initial examination of the bar, I was amazed by how quickly her thoughts ventured from a genuine concern for my well-being to an almost impenetrable stare at the artwork on the chest. So I guess it was really good.

She said it looked a distinctly surreal piece, and proceeded to” google” it post-haste. It brought us to the website which occupied most of my time during the trip, www.theartistlabels.com .  We clicked on “1958” label and it turned out to be designed by Salvador Dali. I mean…that’s pretty cool.  A quick gander at the site revealed labels by such influential artists as Cocteau, Miro, Warhol, and Picasso. Even Price Charles got into the mix? OK, maybe that one was a bit ill-conceived.  But all in all, it struck me as quite a concept.  How did this all start?

Jean Carlo's famous interpretation of the "Mouton," the French word for Ram.

In short, during the early part of the 20th century, every vineyard in the Médoc sold its juice to a merchant in Bordeaux. The merchant then became responsible for everything that happened afterwards: maturation, bottling, labeling, marketing and selling. With no rights over the finished product, the particular vigneron had no control over the appearance of the wine label. Then, in 1924 Baron Philippe de Rothschild made a decision, revolutionary at the time, to bottle the entire harvest before it actually left the vineyard.

From that time on, the label took on a new importance. It became the trademark, the guarantee of quality, and the signature of the vineyard.  For the inaugural vintage, the Baron commissioned the famous poster designer, Jean Carlu, to design the label. This exception became the rule, and from 1946 on a contemporary artist was commissioned every year to create an original work to illustrate the label. Every artist is at liberty to interpret the themes of the vine, the pleasure of drinking or the symbol of the Ram, as they see fit. The artists are paid no money for their work, but given instead a certain number of cases of wine of two different years, obviously including the year they provided the label. Not a bad deal.

The bad deal for me was that when I finally felt better it was time to leave. I did take a sense of solace in the fact that Logan would be forever indebted to me as a result of the fun she had on the trip. So in retrospect, I traveled roughly 3,600 miles, spent 5 days in bed at a one star-hotel along the Seine, and spent five thousand dollars that I am to this day still paying off. All to navigate to a website that I could have found the computer in my own apartment.  But Logan had fun. And I was able to write this blog for any wine/art enthusiasts who do not know about this site. But that’s me…..rarely thinking of myself, always looking out for the welfare of others.

– Wes Kirk


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