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A Perfect Blend: Wine & Design

Written by in Collections, Design, Packaging

 

Barrel + Ink: The Oenophile’s Love Child

No Sonoma Valley vineyard? No Napa Valley warehouse stocked with barrels? No obese celebrity billionaire to bankroll the brand? Not at Barrel + Ink, an unusual collaborative wine producer that brings together varied and talented artists and winemakers to create alluring labels of extraordinary quality priced to attract younger buyers. Company founders are proving exceptional design married to craft wine to attract a new generation of wine fans.  [Credit: All photos by Joshua Harding, courtesy of Barrel + Ink]. 

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Corey Miller, age 34, holds an MD and PhD from the University of California, San Francisco. He currently works as a research scientist at UCSF. Like many, he is passionate about wine, but Miller takes his passion further. He started making wine as a PhD student, and interrupted his studies to work a commercial harvest with Napa Valley legend, Andy Erickson, in 2013. These experiences led him to start a wine company unlike any before, Barrel + Ink. A company dedicated to the celebration of craftsmanship, unexpected creative collaborations, and the stories that emerge from the two.

“There are so many winemakers and designers known only to their respective communities of avid followers,” says Marta Harding, Lead Creative at Barrel + Ink. “They are craftsmen and artists. They are deeply engaged in the entire winemaking process from vine to bottle, and the design process from ideation to foil. Their stories are rich, but rarely shared. We wanted to change that.”

Highly Valued Real Estate: Wine Labels
Tapp Label Company  of Napa Valley
Paper: CLASSIC CREST®, Solar White, Smooth
Adhesive: AT20N
Liner: 1.2M PET
Coating: UV High Rub
Note: Inks and print specs varied for each designer, but the stock remained consistent.

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Designer Jessica Hische paired with winemaker Andy Erickson.

No Constraints

“We are not defined by a single winemaker, vineyard, label, region, or style. Instead, we provide a unique platform for winemaker + designer to step out from behind the winery or brand and work together with complete creative freedom. No 100-point system. No creative brief. No constraints.” — From Barrel + Ink

The Barrel + Ink business model is more of a philosophy of life than an operational structure. In fact, it is so unusual and cooperative, it is hard to believe it works. But it does. Each label is created by a different winemaker with complete freedom. Winemakers are then paired with a notable graphic designer or illustrator, also with complete freedom to design the brand story. The final product, a limited-edition wine label, is one-of-a-kind, designed to attract the new, but well informed wine enthusiast, especially those of modest means.

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Erickson’s wine. Hische’s design.

“As my knowledge and appreciation of the wine industry deepened, I became acquainted with numerous winemakers and got to know many personally,” says Miller. As his respect of these people grew, Miller had an epiphany: he wanted to find a way to introduce these winemakers to a wider audience. “There are hundreds such men and women known only to avid fans, friends, and peers,” says Harding. “They are artists and craftspeople. They are deeply engaged in whole process, from harvesting to barrel making, to bottle selection and decanting. The stories are rich but rarely shared. We wanted to change that.” Barrel + Ink became the mechanism Miller would use to make that introduction.

 

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Winemaker Pax Mahle paired with Lab Partners.

To bring Barrel + Ink to life, Corey Miller needed the help of a small but talented team of creative and technical co-founders. He connected Harding (who works full time as a Design Lead at IDEO) to lead creative. Miller then recruited Chris Saylor, a full-stack software engineer, to build and manage the website and eCommerce platform. Marta brought in her husband Joshua Harding, a professional photographer and videographer, to act as media officer, and experienced branding and advertising creative Kristin Kelly as creative director. None take a salary: They all share an equity stake in the business. Each Barrel + Ink release is available in limited numbers and sold primarily through their website. Bottles are meant to be collected, consumed, displayed, or shared. Above all, every Barrel + Ink wine represents a new way of engaging the power of communication arts (film, photography, illustration, writing, and design) as a way of bringing the stories of iconic, but little-known makers, to a new generation of consumers.

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First Row: Interessante by Hische and Erickson • Second Row: ‘You & Me’ by Helen Keplinger and Erik Marinovich • Third Row: ‘Theif’ by Pax Mahle with Lab Partners • Fourth Row:  ‘Nuova Raccolto’ by Aaron Pott with Don Clark, Invisible Creature.

Barrel + Ink’s team believes they are attracting a new type of serious wine buyer: the young. They are beginning to build the knowledge of the high-end buyer, but are yet to afford or willing to spend for high-priced bottles. “I did not want to be (and could not afford to be) another high-end vintner that sold products out of the reach of younger wine drinkers,” Miller says.

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Winemaker Andy Erickson pours out his love.

“Most wine buyers cannot afford $200 on a bottle of wine to complement their roast duck. The wines we offer are both very good and priced between $25 and $100,” Miller says. Even at the upper range, they bet that sophisticated young buyers will spend if—and only if—they know more about the process and people behind their selections. “The stories behind our wines provide a window into the lives and inspirations of our makers. The winemaker creates the wine. The designers bring the stories to life. Everyone’s contribution is equal, honored, and shared.” Miller and his collaborators believe they’ve achieved the perfect blend of authentic, hand-crafted wine, exceptional storytelling, and affordable price points that will attract younger buyers—and keep them coming back for more.

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Invisible Creature’s Don Clark drawing label artwork.

Wine + Design: Taste, Beauty, Allure

  • In May of 2015, Barrel + Ink’s launched with the release of a 2012 Cabernet sauvignon titled, ‘Nuova Raccolto’ made by Aaron Pott in collaboration with Don Clark of the Seattle-based Invisible Creature.
  • Their next release, ‘You & Me’, was a white blend made by Helen Keplinger and paired with a label design by renowned typographer, Erik Marinovich.
  • Their third release in the Fall of 2015, ‘Thief’, a Syrah-Grenache blend made by Pax Mahle with design work by creative due Lab Partners San Francisco, led by Sarah Labieniec and Ryan Meis.
  • In Spring of 2016 Barrel + Ink released ‘Interessante’, made by Andy Erickson in partnership with lettering artist and author Jessica Hische.
  • Barrel + Ink will release three more collaborations in 2016 with quarterly releases in 2017.
  • Winemaker and designer stories are revealed with the launch of each collaboration.
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Another Fine Pairing: Lab Partner’s Sarah Labieniec and Ryan Meis.