You Don’t Need to Speak Wine to Read These Labels
Imagine if Georgia O'Keeffe or Jackson Pollock visually represented a wine’s acidity, texture, and tannins on its label.
Image courtesy of Dominio IV Wines
If you are like 65 percent of the world's population and happen to be a visual learner, there is now a wine made just for you.
Dominio IV is a biodynamic, family-owned winery based in Mosier, Oregon, and the labels on their "Imagination" series of wines are intended to show—not tell—what the wines taste like. What exactly does that mean? Figuratively speaking, imagine if a winery hired someone like Georgia O'Keeffe or Jackson Pollock to visually represent a wine's acidity, texture, and tannins. In short, through a series of colourful lines, dots, and circles, you will be led through the flavours that hit your palate.
Consider it synesthesia for winos.
MUNCHIES reached out to Patrick Reuter, Dominio IV's winemaker and the artist behind the illustrations, to see why he chose to shun written flavour profiles for a bunch of squiggles.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Patrick. What are your "Imagination Series" wines about? Patrick Reuter: I was just trying to come up with a language we can all understand wine in. It's been about ten years in the making. We've been in this process of designing a label that is reflective of the flavour profile of the wine in visual terms. So we use a couple of symbols to represent different parts of the wine, and colour. And then we plot that over time and it becomes an image that reflects your tasting experience. So, it is synesthesia in the way that it is this sort of idea that it is sensory experience but crossmodal at the same time.
How did you get the idea to use illustrations as flavour descriptors? I started writing down all my tasting notes. You know, coming out of school we'd have these groups and we would write down all the notes and I kept looking back six months later and reading my notes and I couldn't remember which wine it was. I mean, I had it labeled, but the wine was not easily accessible to me.
So, I started drawing impressions of the wine, just with circles and things over time, and I could remember the wine better. And that sort of developed into more of a system of, "Let's use different symbols to reflect different parts of the wine."
For example, fruit, or roundness, are always represented as circles. Because it's very difficult to find a fruit in nature that isn't round in some way. And acidity is like the carrier, it's like the transporter; it moves fruit from one side to the other, it is represented as an arrow. And if you have this sort of structural element in wine, for example a tannin, as it's often called, we would represent that as dots.
And so you can use those three symbols while you're tasting a wine to represent how your impression is over, let's say thirty seconds or a minute if you really want to sit down with a wine.
How do colours translate to flavours? Colour plays into that too because you can have "yellow," and most people are going to say, "Oh, OK, so lemons could be in there." And what else? You know there's a lot of other things that people naturally associate with colour. If I said, "blackberries" or "black raspberries" or "black cherries," you wouldn't write down "green," right? You'd get a deep, black, purple. So you can use those sorts of colours to inform people or relate to people what kind of things are in the wines. Being kind of the visual beings that we are, people have a very immediate connection with the visual representation of wine. So we put those on our wine labels and I paint a new label that reflects the flavour profile of the wine inside the bottle.
So, let's say that we were tasting a wine and we picked up some dried herbal notes. Then we would use a kind of sage-y green and little bit of brown. Let's say we picked up stone fruit—like peaches—you might use like a pink-orange. Some of them are not as direct as that. Like if you have this saline element, in chardonnay for example, you might see that as light, light blue because it has like this kind of saline, salty, sea-like [quality]. So it's an association with things in the real world.
Any flavour that you come up with in your head, you then look for a colour that you can associate with it. So if you're talking about dark, chocolatey things, you're talking dark brown or milky brown. It just goes on and on and on. There are as many colours as you can think of.
Were you a painter or have you studied art at all before? I did not. I've got a strong aesthetic sense, so I was a furniture designer for a while. I made metal and wood furniture. But my only painting training comes from a group of local artists that are kind of interesting, professional women that are retired and in their sixties and seventies. I joined their group to become more knowledgeable about painting and techniques. That's my only training.
We have been doing a few seminars. We did one at the Portland Art Museum that was really fun and interesting, where we took people through three different stations: acid, fruit, and tannin. We gave them wines to drink and then they "felt" textures. So the tannin table had little seeds and chalk and mortar and things they could feel for texture. And then the table that had objects that were associated with fruit had round things, like marbles and ping pong balls. So we were trying to train the mind to think in terms of shape. And then we went into another phase where we drank wine and looked at the paintings with those shapes on them. So people had some really interesting comments and they all were engaging in wine in a completely different way, I think, from when they started.
What kind of feedback have you received from your customers? I get very positive remarks because most people can taste the wine, and then look at the picture, and it's relatable. Even without explaining the key system to people, or what the symbols mean, they say, "Oh, I got it." You don't have to say anything at all. So that's usually a very, really positive response to the images.
That is the best part of using images to describe wine, since wine writing can be very exclusive, you know what I mean? Like sometimes when you read a wine description, you couldn't feel more alienated from the wine. Because you just don't know what "maduro tobacco" tastes like in red wine. We are quite visually oriented that we feel included in the wine instead of excluded. So I think that helps people as an aid.
Thank you for speaking with me.