Combining the appeal of the finest wines in the world with the some of the greatest contemporary art has not been lost on wine-makers looking to add extra appeal and value. Probably the master at this, and certainly the innovator and trend setter, was Baron Philippe de Rothschild who first commissioned a label for his First Growth Grand Vin in 1924 with the then famous poster artist Jean Carlu.
The tradition was then formally established in 1945 and since then Chateau Mouton Rothschild labels have been created by the great artists of the day, including Dali (1958), Picasso (1973), Warhol (1975), Bacon (1990), Lucian Freud (2006), Xu Lei (2008), Jeff Koons (2010) David Hockney (2014) and many more, even HRH Prince Charles (2004) has created a special label.
More recently the practice has been adopted by a number of wine producers and those with the pockets to do so have also commissioned great artists to design their labels. That said both parties benefit in terms of increasing the aesthetics (and value) of a bottle of wine and the artist’s work is appreciated by a wider audience, whether in the hands of the consumer or media attention when these more collectible wines capture press attention at auction.
Super Tuscan, Ornellaia, launched its Vendemmia d’Artista series in 2009 with the estate’s 2006 vintage. Artists are asked to interpret the characteristics of the vintage, as described in one word by winemaker Axel Heinz, in an original artwork. Artists which have labelled the Super Tuscan’s bottles include Zhang Huan, Rebecca Horn, Ernesto Neto and William Kentridge. These special labels generally feature on about a sixth of the estate’s production of its first wine (12 x 75cl) and on larger format bottles where they are numbered and individually signed by the artist. These ‘limited editions’ are then more likely to achieve higher values at auction.
Ornellaia’s Marketing Director, Tim Banks states that “Contemporary art and fine wine are both forms of cultural expression and our artist labels help to raise the consumers’ experience above the 100-point scale.” Since commencement of its art initiative Ornellaia has donated more than £1million from charity auction proceeds to art foundations around the world, further raising the Super Tuscan’s profile in those communities.
Other wine estates have seen the value of adding collector appeal through collaboration with artists including the Chianti Estate, Nittardi – formerly owned by the great impressionist Michelangelo and now owned by Peter Femfert, art collector and gallery owner.
Manfred Krankl, owner of California’s Sine Qua Non is famous for creating his own labels, producing a unique work of art each vintage, which are now highly anticipated by his loyal customers. Their collector appeal, combined with great wine-making has meant that the estate’s wines often see significant growth in the secondary market.
Of Chateau Margaux pedigree, Thibault Pontalier, son of the late great wine maker of the Bordeaux First Growth, formed Pont des Arts in 2010 with his father and Dominique de Villepin, which brings together the works of exciting contemporary artists with highly collectible wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. They certainly understand how to position and pair these great luxury assets and have been successful in attracting new consumers as a result.
Perhaps one of the most extraordinary examples of the value that can be derived from an alliance between art and alcohol was the record-breaking auction sale by Christies in London of a single bottle of The Macallan 1926, 60-year old whisky featuring the work of the Irish artist, Michael Dillon for £1.2million in November 2018.