Monday, March 12, 2007

Front and Back Labels

~Did you know that with wine, the back label can also be the front label?
~If that piece of information sounds ridiculous it is, and we can thank the U.S. federal government for that Orwellian situation. Come to think of it, we can thank the federal government for every Orwellian situation; that’s what governments are for!
~Let me explain.
Federal wine label regulations mandate that certain blocks of information must appear on the label, information like the warning statements, plus the name of the region, grape variety, producer, alcohol, etc.
Never mind that much of that stuff is not really information. A lot of it is like those tourist maps when you visit Italy; you know, the ones that are more impressionist than they are directional.
For instance, the government alcohol warning statements are a lesson in misinformation and Orwellianism, and the other items are potentially but not necessarily true—it all depends on the definition of 100% and what constitutes a cellar or the definition of the word “vinted” if there is such a word in the English language.
~After we spend our time trying to figure out if we indeed have a wine that will make us pregnant, or some such thing, or a wine that is 12% alcohol by volume, or if it really is Merlot and not just partly Merlot, we can relax and take in the pleasure of the back label.
~The back label is where producers get creative, or at least they think they are creative. This is where you find out all that important stuff like how old the family vineyard is, where the patriarch came from, what he used to believe back in the nineteenth century, and the virtues of his old vines, some of which are today owned by some big corporation—but that is no matter.
~On the back label we find attempts at poetry or at descriptive missives. The problem is that too often people with absolutely no poetry in them or with poor writing skills write these back labels, which usually creates unintentional hilarity.
~ Who knows, maybe wine producers simply don’t value good writing, or don’t have the money to hire a good writer. Or maybe they are either under the sway of a P.R. hack or an inflated sense of their abilities to communicate the joy and beauty they experience from wine.
~Whatever the cause for the funny back labels, in my view, they can do away with them completely. All that is needed is a simple and brief description of the wine (maybe the blend) plus some ideas concerning the food to pair with it.
So, what does this complaint about the writing have to do with the back label also being the front label?
Nothing. But I’m getting to that subject.
~Earlier I wrote that the federal government mandates certain information on a wine label. Generally, anything that is mandated on the label must appear on the front label and not on the back label.
~Have you checked that bottle of wine lately? Is that bottle cylindrical or am I nuts? Of course, the two are mutually exclusive, but the bottle is cylindrical.
~Take a good look at the bottle. Do you know which is the front and which is the back of that cylinder?
~The potential real reason that wine producers don’t spend money on hiring a good writer to do the back label is that they spend all their money on designing the artwork for the front label.
~After spending all that money on the front label why would a producer want to ruin it with that government mandate stuff, especially when most of the government stuff isn’t true anyway?
~Are you with me?
~Not yet?
~OK. I’ll spell it out.
~All wine labels are subject to both federal and local (state) approval. The federal approval takes precedence. Every label design must be submitted to the feds with an application (and of course a fee) for approval, to make sure that the mandates are covered, and that the women in the drawing are covered too…
~The producer can arrange the labels in whatever format desired so long as the mandated stuff appears on the one that the application identifies as the front label.
It must have taken a smart importer fifteen minutes to figure out that the producer can’t control which label the retailer displays on the shelf—a cylinder can be turned around and around.

TTB labels, morelabels,

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
March, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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