I know why I used to drink it; it was to do with consistency. Well, there was an element of price in there as well, but let’s stick with consistency for now.
When you start drinking wine, consistency is one of the most important things; you want to know what you are going to get, without having to memorise a whole load of names, and varieties, and vintages. Only after a while was I able to move onwards and upwards, by filling my head with wine info as if I was cramming for some kind of exam. In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue; in nineteen hundred and eighty four, the Bordeaux vintage was piss poor…
Nowadays, I try to avert my gaze from the branded wines which crowd my supermarket’s shelves. It’s a little like trying not to look at something you know you really shouldn’t, like someone’s wardrobe malfunction, or television property programmes. But this time my eye was caught, by a new label (above) on the serried bottles of Banrock Station.
And you know what it’s like; whether you’re pushing a trolley, or driving your car up to a pedestrian crossing. Once your eye is caught, you just have to stop.
Back in the days when I did buy Banrock Station, it had a diamond-shaped label, a generically modern kind of design for a generically modern kind of wine. It even had a touch of gilt, which made me feel I was getting a little bit of class for my four quid or so:
Essentially, it kept quiet, perhaps not the best way to attract sales, but displaying a modesty which echoed the status of the wine and, frankly, sat comfortably on an equally modest table.
But look what has changed. Perhaps in an attempt to reflect their environmental, “good earth” credentials, they are attempting a rustic, craft kind of vibe. The paper is coarse and matt. The colour is earthy. And the printing is broken and flecked, as if attempting to suggest that the label has been crudely, artisanally stamped from a linocut or woodblock or something.
Now, there is a craft beer, The Kernel, whose label looks like crudely stamped brown paper. Once, it actually was crudely stamped brown paper; unable to afford properly printed labels, the brewer ordered a basic ink stamp, and handstamped the brown paper labels himself; the thick brown paper then stopped the bottles clanking together when he put them into boxes. Now, the production has hugely increased, and the labels are properly printed – but they still look like handstamped brown paper.
I’m also reminded of the live album Fillmore East, June 1971 by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, an official live recording which was printed to look like an illegal bootleg, with all of the authenticity such an album embodied.
Because in reality, Banrock Station arrives in industrial bulk. A back label (similarly framed in crude, broken lines) tells us that the bottle has been “filled” at “BS11 9FG”. This is the somewhat non-artisanal plant in Avonmouth, Bristol, where bulk-shipped wines arrive from Australia, and whose state-of-the-art bottling lines fill some 400 bottles a minute. Something tells me that this ruthlessly industrial process does not wait for someone to print each label individually from a carved potato.
There’s something here echoing the whole hipster authenticity thing. That uncomfortable conjunction of the appearance of craft with the world of modernity. These chaps who look like Canadian loggers, complete with plaid shirt, outback beard, stylishly weathered jeans and clumpy, half-laced boots. Oh, and a MacBook Air.
No-one, least of all a label designer, is going to make me think of Banrock Station as a small-batch, artisanal product. It never even was (unlike that craft beer). In fact it underlines its global reach by declaring on its label that it “contains sulphites, egg, milk” in no less than 19 languages. (Grapes don’t get a mention.)
And surely, the variations in taste and quality which occur from year to year in genuinely rustic wines would be anathema to a global, mass-market brand? Consistent wine for around a fiver, produced in huge quantity and delivered globally thanks to modern industrial processes. What’s to be embarrassed about?
But then, why do guys who code apps want to look like sharecroppers?