I don't spend much time looking at wine labels. Neither do most of the people I know. Some of them even take pride in this fact. "I don't pay attention to labels," said my friend Suzanne. "They don't make a difference in the wines that I buy." My friend Amy told me much the same thing, though she acknowledged she might be "subliminally" influenced by a nice typeface from time to time. The Collector reacted as if the idea were preposterous: "I don't need to look at a label. I know what I want."
Unlike my friends, who seem to rank people who look at labels just above those whose lips move when they read, I don't scorn wine-label art; at some point, I just stopped noticing it. Now, if I study the front of a bottle at all, it's because I'm searching for facts like grape varieties and alcohol content, not for nicely rendered family portraits or pastoral landscapes. I guess in that way I've become a bit of a boremore interested in how a wine tastes than in how it looks. Better, you might say, than the reverse, but somewhat lacking in romance and glamour.
I realized this while looking through ICON, a new book by California-based label designers Jeffrey Caldewey and Chuck House. In this collection of their greatest hits, each wine label is accorded a lush Scavullo-style photo and a paragraph detailing the history of the designmany conceived in collaboration with the winemaker or vintner.