by Paige Donner
I want to talk a little bit today about wine labels. In particular, French wine labels.
Now, as an American, we all know that unspeakable little secret that we women wine drinkers in the U.S. buy our wine based primarily on the design of the wine label. It follows the same axiom of truth that all women are bad drivers.
Ok. Yeah.You caught me out. I am being facetious… Exponentially facetious.
All good-humored kidding aside, however, I will admit that one of the more daunting challenges I have faced in learning about French wines is how to read these deliciously complex wine labels. When I first started out, I was convinced I would have to go back to school to get a PhD in French wine-labelology. You know what I mean?
The more time I spend in the country, however, exploring the wine regions – and drinking the wines! – the labels have become increasingly demystified. It helps significantly when you can associate a place – Batard Montrachet, for example, or Puisseguin-St. Emilion or St. Joseph – with people you’ve met, events you’ve attended and collegial friendships you’ve made over shared meals and spitting buckets.
But not many people can take/make the opportunity to delve so deeply into a singular country’s terroir and sojourn for copious amounts of time in backcountry vineyard territory.
So when I was presented the other day with the genius label design of the Barons De Rothschild “new” champagne brand, I nearly did an uncharacteristic squeal of delight.
Now here’s a label I could understand, no matter what language I speak! “Champagne Barons de Rothschild.”
The entire label, printed in silver (for Rosé and Blanc de Blancs cuvées) or gold (for Brut) with royal blue accents on a clear background, is the simple and elegant family crest.
The symbol is their ancient family coat of arms that dates back to their Frankfurt-am-Main origins and to the family patriarch, Mayer Amschel, who directed that each of his five sons embark upon the five European capital cities of the era, thus establishing the subsequent distinct cultural branches of the family. [Their title of Baron came not too long thereafter when it was bequeathed to them by the Austrian (Habsburg) Emperor Francis II in 1816.]
And I especially love that the emblem of the five arrows banded by a singular unifying crown is repeated on the metallic grey label (black for Brut) that covers the neck of the bottle which symbolizes these five original brothers (sons of Mayer Amschel) and now the five branches of the family. If you look closely at the Crest, you will see the hand grasping these five arrows, repeated on both the left and right hand side of the crest, but it becomes so much more evident when it is clearly printed on the label encircling the neck of the bottle.
It’s also divinely significant – not just for the family story but also for the genesis of how the Barons de Rothschild Champagne came to fruition.
To the first point:
The Rothschild coat of arms contains a clenched fist with five arrows symbolizing the five dynasties established by the five sons of Mayer Rothschild, in a reference to Psalm 127: “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.”
The family motto appears below the shield: Concordia, Integritas, Industria (Unity, Integrity, Industry).
To the second point:
The key is the word above – Unity. Which can also translate to harmony. In a family who for the last few generations have built separate empires within the world of wine – I’m referring of course to the legendary “rivalry” between Château Mouton and Château Lafite – it is a cause for celebration to enjoy the fruit – in the form of Champagne – that the family has produced in their first family wine-venture in, well, a long time.
So when the branches of the family came together to decide on how to present their champagne on the global stage to the world consumer, it was undoubtedly no trifling matter to come to a consensus as to what would best convey the family’s upholding of excellence and how that would be represented.
I’ve been told that in fact it was Baroness Philippine who designed the Champagne House’s champagne label; And if that is so then I believe it’s important to give her credit for intuiting that as we move speedily along further into our global and multi-linguistic culture we find ourselves relying more and more on the simple communicative effectiveness of a language of symbols. But because the whole venture is underscored by the sentiment of family unity, there’s no doubt the design was approved of unanimously by her familial champagne cohorts who deserve to share equally in the label-design glory, namely (L-R with the Baroness in the middle) Baron Eric de Rothschild, Monsieur Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, Baronne Ariane de Rothschild and Baron Benjamin de Rothschild.
So, now, back to my original question..What’s in a label?
Well, I obviously can’t speak for all wine labels, here. But this is what you will find in the Champagne Barons de Rothschild label:
Concordia – Harmony : “Associating the Rothschild name with a champagne is one of these decisions and could not be made without the complete commitment of all representatives of the family.
This same search for harmony also guided the creation of their Champagne, which was blended to achieve perfect balance.”
Industria – Entrepreneurial Spirit : “Leaving nothing to chance, Barons de Rothschild champagnes are produced according to the highest industry standards, applied rigorously at each stage in the wine-making process. The cornerstone of this ambition was the decision to restrict production to small volumes, in line with the carefully selected grape supply, and then, above all, to rely on time. The time required to allow the wines to age and ensure that each cuvée reaches the peak of its perfection.”
Integritas – Whole : “Champagne Barons de Rothschild is the result of the family global vision of excellence reached to preserve the prestige of its ancestors. Produced from the best grape varieties issued from the best crus, it preserves their integrity through the decision to add an extremely low amount of dosage liquor and apply production methods usually reserved for “Grandes Cuvées.””
As for the champagne itself? Well, I can’t yet say. I haven’t tasted it yet…But I have a feeling it’s going to be great!