This piece originally appeared on VinePair.com.
Have you ever picked up a bottle of wine, especially one from the Côtes-du-Rhône region of France, felt Braille on the label, and wonder how it got there? You may have even wondered if the little bumps were Braille at all. Well, they are, and the story of how they got there is a pretty amazing and thoughtful one.
Michel Chapoutier comes from a dynasty of winemakers. The family has been making wine in the Rhône region for years, and because their influence is so expansive – it doesn’t hurt that the Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône red and white blends they make are around $12 and very easy to find across the U.S. – things they do tend to get adopted by the larger wine community, and the use of Braille on wine labels is no exception.
In 1993, when Chapoutier was only 29 and had been the main winemaker in the family business for only three years, he turned on the television to watch his friend and musician Gilbert Montagnin on the screen. Gilbert, who is blind, was talking about the experience of buying wine and was explaining on the program that he never felt comfortable going into a wine shop alone because he didn’t know which wines he was picking up. Therefore, in order for him to take part in the simple pleasure of buying wine, he’d have to always be accompanied by a friend who was able to describe the wines he was choosing.
Chapoutier knew his friend was a big fan of his Côtes-du-Rhône and he didn’t like the idea that it was uncomfortable for him to seek it out, so he decided to look into whether or not his old printing machine could print Braille. After a bit of research it turned out it was a relatively simple process to add Braille to his labels, so Chapotier decided to include the Braille text to every bottle of wine he produced. From that point on, on every bottle of Chapotier – and there are millions, from not only the Côtes-du-Rhône but also Languedoc Rousillon, Provence and even Australia – he includes the appellation, name of the wine, vintage and whether it is red or white, all written in Braille.
After Chapoutier adopted the Braille, so did many other winemakers, making it much easier for those without sight to choose and enjoy a bottle of wine.
And that’s how Braille wound up on wine bottles.