THE WINE ZINE 07, 2022
The sisters stand shoulder to shoulder, their sullen, carved-marble stares drift off into nothingness. The world has emptied behind them. We tend to think infinite space is full of possibility; instead, the emptiness here feels shallow. The two are young, remarkably pale, their long necks leading into sloping shoulders and matching drab black dresses. Together they resemble outlines; their facial features are simple, smooth, and their heads turned slightly towards each other without giving a whiff of familial warmth. So austere, flat, even the most minor use of color feels out of place. The most obvious distinguishing feature is their hair. Styled with identical hair parts and these tightly coiled curly locks flowing downward. The sister to the left has hair the hue of ink, and the sister to the right has these auburn highlights, still dark but radiant in comparison. The eyes tell a similar story. One has charred dark eyes, the other a sea blue, each maintaining a cold ambiguity.
When Erin Rasmussen selected the image for the label of American Wine Project’s RIVALS LaCrosse, she knew it would catch people’s eye. “I worked with someone who said the goal with labels is to be striking enough that if a server delivered a bottle to a table, the next table would see it and say, “Oh, what’s that?” Making wine in Wisconsin, there is a need to draw people in, to defy expectation. Made with hybrid La Crosse grapes, they are “cold-hardy,” dry and medium- bodied. With RIVALS, Rasmussen embraced their uniqueness while still approaching the grapes like she would a California Chardonnay.
“I’ve been obsessively following Public Domain Review (Sisters is in the National Gallery of Arts collection and made available through Creative Commons) for a few years and love seeing what they curate that’s forgotten but so interesting,” said Rasmussen. “Even the things that aren’t particularly beautiful, they are great about talking about why it’s important, why it’s curious, why it’s something to pay attention to, and that is how I feel about the grapes that grow around here.”
It’s all this wonderfully perplexing contradiction, one that I happily went along with. Many of the 19th-century portrait painters were frequently itinerant artists. These town-to-town salesmen would work for food and a place to rest until the region was adequately depicted before moving on to the next town. These artists often developed a tiered system: those selecting a lower level received an unsigned canvas, a flat likeness, a lack of extraneous details, imperfect proportions, with spare backdrops. That’s the outside of the bottle. Staid. Humble. What waits inside couldn’t differ more. There is a sweet and sour refresh that comes from green citrus fruits. Zesty and silky, with some deep salt and the richness of umami. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time pondering how the label and the wine reflect each other. And then, voilà! Misdirection. Rasmussen used sleight of hand to build an enormous sense of wonder, of mystery. We are seeing the world through the winemaker’s eyes. The joy she takes in playing off our assumptions and misperceptions of what wine from Wisconsin can be.