Friday, May 22, 2009

Banknote Wine Company

Leaving comments on other people's sites/blogs is a very useful tool in social media today, especially when your name links back to your own site. Thus is the case of how I got in contact with Pete Nixon. Pete commented on an episode of Wine Library TV a little while back and I clicked on his name to view his link. I found that Pete was the owner of Banknote Wine Company and his labels were absolutely fascinating. I immediately reached out to Pete to do an interview, and he gladly agreed. The following
is what transpired during our very detailed interview.

WLR: When did you decide to become a wine producer? What factors played a role in your decision?

BNWC: Initially it was more of a subconscious decision to get in the wine business that started over 10 years ago. My other life is a graphic designer; I’ve been in the wine label design business for the last 15 years, helping start new brands for up and coming winemakers. When I’m designing these new wine brands, it helps in the design process to take ownership of the projects and think of them as if they were my own brand, to treat them the way I would if I was the winery owner. Thinking that way long enough I guess evolved from just a design process into a serious interest in a future way of making a living.
The conscious decision to actually take the plunge into the wine business was a few years ago, it was basically the realization that my three biggest hurdles actually were achievable. It was the perfect convergence of finding, 1. the winemaker, 2. a good source of fruit, and 3. the capital to bankroll the company, all at the same time. During a meeting with a client and friend, winemaker William Knuttel, talk turned to the dream I had of starting my own brand. I explained my ideas of the brand and what I was someday hoping to achieve. After a few hours of discussion (and a few glasses of Zin), William graciously agreed to make wine for Banknote and to help my dream turn to reality. William has years of winemaking experience (Chalk Hill and Saintsbury to name a few), and he also has lots of great sources for excellent fruit, two of my biggest hurdles solved. The financing was the easy part, I borrowed it!

WLR: How long has BANKNOTE been in production?

BNWC: We did a small run of Zinfandel last year in select markets, mainly just to test the multiple label concept, but aside from that, the 2006 Napa Valley red blend “The Vault” is our first official release.

WLR: How did you choose the name BANKNOTE WINE COMPANY?

BNWC: Coming up with the name was the easiest part of this whole process. I came up with the concept of using banknotes for labels years ago, long before I decided to make wine. At the time it was just a design idea I thought I was going to pose to a winery, I didn’t bother thinking of the name, since the wineries usually supply me with that part. So when I decided to make wine and use the banknote concept for myself, the name “Banknote Wine Company” kind of just fell into place. They say you should use your name as your brand name, but my last name is Nixon, so I figured that wasn’t really the best option.

WLR: Why did you choose Zinfandel as the base of your blends? Do you have any plans on expanding your selections to other varietals?

BNWC: I chose Zinfandel as the base of the blend because that’s what I like to drink. I’m a huge Zinfandel fan, I also love Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, so those are the 3 varietals I chose to make up my blend.
Right now my plan is to focus on the Napa Valley red blend, but I’m not totally counting out other varietals in the future.

WLR: Did you have to apply for any special permission to use the images on your labels?

BNWC: No, because they are all so old copyrights don’t apply. Images fifty years old or so are public domain, let alone 150 years old. I was a little concerned ttb (the governmental agency that has to approve all wine labels) was going to have some issues with my labels, since some of the labels mention states, but luckily they all passed.

WLR: You offer twelve different label designs, how did you select the ones you offer?

BNWC: I have been collecting banknotes for many years as a hobby, basically I started with the favorites from my personal collection, and then weeded out the ones that just didn't work for one reason or another. Either the colors were not right, or the design didn’t work that well within restrictions of my layout, or else they didn’t reproduce as well as I had hoped.
Certain banknotes look great for the sake of art, but just wrong as a wine label. Bright green or pink type looks great on some banknotes, but you wouldn’t want it on your dinner table at a fancy restaurant.

WLR: How would the number of label designs you offer be affected if your wines were sold in retail?

WBNC: They are sold in retail in a few wine shops. There is some concern whether customers will get confused when they try to find the wine again, and the label they originally saw might not be in stock. However I have faith that my customers will figure out that the wine is the same, only the labels change. It is however an experiment. The multiple label concept has never really been done before to this extent that I’m aware of.

WLR: Have the original banknote designs been altered in any way? If so, what did you do to them?

BNWC: No, I only cropped them to fit the bottle in the most interesting way I could. I also slightly adjusted the colors, since many of them were too dark, but I didn’t change the art, they were perfect as they are.

WLR: Do you have any information on the original artists who created the banknotes you use? What is the history behind them?

BNWC: No, I don’t know anything about the artists, I wish I did. I’m guessing they were employees of American Banknote Company, which is the company that printed most of the banknotes of that era.
I’ve always been blown away by the amount of detail in banknotes, and the fact that the artist was engraving the illustrations into a steel plate at 100% size is just amazing. I can’t even begin to imagine the concentration, steady hand and talent that must have been necessary to complete such a beautiful piece of work.
If the original artists are watching up there somewhere, I hope they are happy with the fact they can now add “wine label illustrator” to their resumé.

WLR: Has the current economic situation in the United States had any influence on the sale of your wine? Do you think people are influenced by the label design?

BNWC: Sales are slow for everyone right now, but things are getting better. I have several new distributors picking up Banknote Wine in the near future, so sales are not a worry for me. My distributor in New York is selling Banknote really well.
I’m sure people are influenced by the designs in one way or another. I’m hoping some people will want to buy several bottles because they want more than one label to take to a party or give as a gift. But I’m sure some “serious” wine drinkers will think it’s a gimmick and not even try the wine. You can’t please them all; I just hope the majority are influenced in a positive way.

WLR: Is the wine getting any reviews?

BNWC: The Vault just won Double Gold “Best-of-Class” from the 2009 SF Chronicle wine competition, the very first contest I entered. It’s the largest competition of American wines in the world, so I had some tough competition. Best-of-Class means it was the judges unanimous favorite of all the Double Golds in my category of Red Blends, so I was pretty honored to get such a prestigious award.

WLR: How and where can people purchase your wine?

BNWC: The best way to purchase Banknote wine would be from my website,, I can ship to most states without any problems.
I would also be happy to email a current list of wine shops in your area that carry Banknote Wine, just send me an email through my website.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Open Invitation

winelabelreview invitation to show from Richard Ritter on Vimeo.
I am accepting submissions of wine labels "on bottles" for review on the show. You can e-mail me at so we can discuss the details. Hope to hear from you soon!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wine Blogging Wednesday #57: California Inspiration

For this edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, I have chosen a wine label from California that was part of my inspiration for beginning winelabelreview. For years, my memories of wine labels in the local wine shops where I grew up had boring illustrations of noble chateaus set in majestic vineyards on rolling hills in the countryside. Or, they had no illustrations at all, just the name of the winery in some sort of fancy script font (possibly embellished with a coat of arms or a flouncy initial). Yawn. One label seemed to blend into the next and there was no distinction. I am aware of the history, honor and tradition behind those boring labels, but times change and so should the labels.

I'm a "progressive" and I feel that as we (insert social network platform here) into the future, maybe some wine labels can modernize as well. I'm not talking about getting cheesy/cutesy with the design, just more up to date. Hell, if you don't update your label design how are you ever going to have a throwback label design (see Pepsi Cola)? Anyway, I'm going on a slight tangent here.

My choice for "California Inspiration" pokes a little fun in the ribs of the traditional wine label. My choice is Bonny Doon's Le Cigare Volant. According to Bonny Doon, it is named in honor of the cigar-shaped alien craft banned by decree of the village council of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 1954, "the Flying Cigar" pays homage not only to the wines of the celebrated appellation, but to all forays into the world of the magical and unknown.

I love this label design. The chateau is invaded by the alien aircraft, a subtle unexpected spin is put on the mundane, tradition meets the future, it's what I'm all about! It is the creation of Chuck House, who has worked on other Bonny Doon labels such as Old Telegram, Pacific Rim Reisling, Muscat Vin de Glaciere and Ca' del Solo. Chuck is from They are a powerhouse in packaging design with a sizable portfolio of truly amazing artwork. My inspiration, my "cigare volant".

Thursday, May 7, 2009