Art Imitates Wine: Dazzling New Argyle, Ornellaia Labels Unveiled

The newest class of mind-bending, wine-inspired "Art of Sparkling" labels is here; plus, the super Tuscan series from an iconic artist and photographer raises $312,000

Art Imitates Wine: Dazzling New Argyle, Ornellaia Labels Unveiled
To all the doubters who asked, "What are you supposed to do with that wine label–art degree?" Left to right: Lydia Mercer, Olivia Harwood and Haley Howell (Courtesy of Argyle)
Sep 17, 2019

Designing a wine label that stands out on store shelves is a certain kind of art, but two wineries last week announced they'd go the extra mile and adorn theirs with art art—the visual stylings of both student up-and-comers and feted fine art–world names. Over the weekend, Oregon bubbly specialist Argyle unveiled the newest wine-inspired designs in its Art of Sparkling series, while Italy's Ornellaia raised $312,000 in an auction of large-format bottles of the super Tuscan decorated by celebrated Iranian artist Shirin Neshat.

Up in the Willamette, Argyle announced its fourth year of collaboration with the Pacific Northwest College of the Arts (PNCA); each year, the winery selects three student candidates to receive both a scholarship from Argyle and the opportunity to spend time at the vineyard and in the cellars—to draw inspiration for their masterpieces, the works that would appear on special-edition labels of Argyle brut 2016. "The applications blew us away. We had a really hard time choosing this year," Rob Alstrin, Argyle's director of sales and marketing told Unfiltered; he has been on the panel of art deciders since the project's inaugural vintage. "Each of [the winners'] artwork is deeply influenced by both their background and their evolution in the world of art," he explained.

"To have my art produced on a label that would be in the hands of many people I would not meet, I wanted to have a piece that was intriguing and mysterious," artist Haley Howell explained to us. We've got the new labels, and the artists told us all about their inspirations and unusual techniques.

Art of Sparkling Argyle labels
Olivia Harwood's label art (Courtesy of Argyle)

"I was taken aback at the vineyards that expanded over the hills of the Willamette Valley and I knew right away I had to incorporate the blocks and vast landscapes," Olivia Harwood told Unfiltered via email. "Seeing the geometric patterns that came naturally from these landscapes pushed me into the direction of using gouache ... to have detailed patterns and designs, while maintaining bright and opaque colors." Harwood added she also drew inspiration from the science behind winemaking, and the architecture of the Argyle cellars.

Having found out about the competition from a friend and fellow student at PNCA, this was Hardwood's first time trying her hand at label design: "Having [this experience] with Argyle was an amazing adventure and process. It was fantastic to work with everyone involved!"

Art of Sparkling Argyle labels
Haley Howell's label art (Courtesy of Argyle)

Haley Howell created her label using a method called intaglio, wherein a pattern is engraved into a plate, the plate is coated in ink, and the plate is then pressed against paper to generate the final image. She commented on her choice of medium to Unfiltered: "How the agriculture met the atmosphere in such a vast and beautiful landscape, I knew the piece had to be inspired by that moment. I chose an intaglio printmaking method because in my mind it strongly paralleled the practice of winemaking, and I wanted to honor all of the labor that went into making these bottles as much as I could by choosing an intensive and hands-on printmaking process."

Art of Sparkling Argyle labels
Lydia Mercer's label art (Courtesy of Argyle)

Lydia Mercer employed an early photographic process known as cyanotype for her piece, a process that colors an original print through natural exposure to light. "I was able to create a relief print using only the power of the sun and some basic chemistry, not unlike the process of winemaking," she said. "I initially entered into this process without a clue of what winemaking entailed. The tasting tour that Argyle so generously gave to us before this process fully began was instrumental in formulating our initial ideation."

The winners' completed labels were revealed at the Argyle Tasting House on Sept. 14. A three-pack of the brut with all three labels is now available for purchase, and now that there have been enough AoS alums to fill a case, Argyle is also releasing a 12-bottle collection with all of the past four vintages of young artists. Guaranteed to "pop" in your cellar display.


Ornellaia and Artist Shirin Neshat Release 'La Tensione,' Raise Molti Soldi

Art museums, you might think, would have limited appeal to people who can't see. But the Guggenheim in New York has been making strides in expanding its experience for blind and visually impaired visitors—and its initiative just got a big boost from its friends in the sense of taste, the talented winesmiths at Italy's Ornellaia. An online auction of large-format art labels of the super Tuscan Cabernet blend that concluded Sept. 13 raised $312,000 for the Guggenheim's Mind's Eye program.

Ornellaia La Vendemmia
Artist Shirin Neshat with the biggest canvas: a Salmanazar of Ornellaia (Courtesy of Ornellaia/Sotheby's)

Ornellaia's latest installment in its long-running Vendemmia d'Artista project, which encourages artists each year to create works inspired by a one-word sum-up of the wine and the vintage, features designs from Shirin Neshat, the Iranian mixed-media artist and photographer whose oeuvre explores tensions between femininity and masculinity, Islam and the West, and public and private life—making her the perfect artistic translator for the theme of the 2016, "La Tensione." The labels depict women's hands overlaid with Farsi calligraphy, and the 11 auction lots included large-format bottles—up to 9 liters—and a box set with past vintages of Vendemmia labels.

Ornellaia La Vendemmia
The labels read like a flipbook when lined up. (Courtesy of Ornellaia/Sotheby's)

Ornellaia's series has benefited the Guggenheim in past vintages—Unfiltered attended the live auction in 2017 in New York—but this is the first year all proceeds will go to Mind's Eye specifically, a collaborative effort of artists and educators that incorporates verbal descriptions, conversation and sensory experiences to make the collection more accessible. "We are happy and proud to have started our three-year support of the Mind’s Eye program ... with such an important figure as $312,000," Ornellaia CEO Giovanni Geddes da Filicaia told Unfiltered via email. "It is among the highest figures ever raised during our annual auctions of the Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista project, and we hope to continue in the same way in the years to come."


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