How a winemaker & graphic designer created magic
10 December 2016
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This is Old Mutual Live Wine edition. Thanks for joining me, I’m Jenny Crwys-Williams. I’m speaking to Sean Harrison who is the creative director for Whitespace Creative and the reason I’m talking to him is not because he’s got a fabulous voice or anything like that. But because he walked away, and his company I have to say, with a Bronze Loerie in the recent Loerie Awards for the design of a wine label and a wine bottle.
The Luddite Saboteur White 2015. It came out, it was out for about 3.5 days and every single bottle has been sold. When you see it on the shelves, you’ll see exactly what I mean. It’s absolutely unique, Sean, thank you for joining me.
Sean Harrison: Thank you Jenny.
JCW: I gather that you and the winemaker and the owner of Luddite wines, Niels Verburg, you’re friends, so you kind of know each other, don’t you?
SH: Yes, we know each other very well and I think that’s part of the reason that we chose to work together.
JCW: What was his brief to you? It seems to me, talking to him a few moments ago, that he actually has got a very good eye and he had very clear ideas.
How an eye for design can help a winemaker
SH: Yes, Jenny, the whole concept was Niels’, we were really just the hands of his ideas. He came to me with the most spectacular wine. I think the contents of the wine, it got five-star Platter, so you can’t argue that it’s really an incredible product. But what really was surprising was, when he gave it to me in a beer bottle. I was kind of… what? You can’t sell premium wine in a beer bottle without a cork and a beer cap.
He said: Why not? That’s where the whole concept started. He was saying how he wanted to challenge the wine industry, with a simple thing like the closure. Take the cork away and even a red wine that needs to be on your wine rack for years sometimes. It’s probably better off with a crown cap, according to Niels. I know nothing about winemaking and the preservation of wine, but that came as news to me.
Then when we started speaking in more detail, I was going, well if the closure can break the mould, why should the label not break the mould and everything about the product. Then we started challenging our perceptions of what wine labels should look like and kind of how they should present themselves. That’s where the whole concept was born.
JCW: When it came to the label itself, because it shrieks from you, amongst all the well-behaved other labels on the shelves, it is arresting. Also, I don’t know what you call it, the thing that goes around the neck that sticks out.
SH: I don’t know what you call it either! We’d never done anything like that and that was really, part of the concept was; wine labels are quite, generally quite restrained. Kind of dignified. The whole concept of the wine is a call to the wine industry and the wine consumers to question why does it have to be like that?
Why do we have to be restrained? Why does it have to be elegant and pretty, why can it not be something else and something different? Not that everything should be like this, but surely we should be in such a creative industry, both the winemaking and the wine marketing. Why should it not be a whole lot more inventive and less kind of the same as everything else.
Embracing the Saboteur concept
JCW: From there, to the Saboteur, I can remember an editor once saying to me, when I ran a headline up the side of a magazine page and he said: It’s unreadable, change it. I said, they’re doing this the world around and he said: I don’t care, it’s unreadable, change it. This does exactly the same thing and you split it in half, but it’s perfectly legible?
SH: To me it is. The spine of every book in every library is like that. So once again, I think it’s a perception that needs to be challenge and that was exactly the reason why we did put it on the side. Because everything else is horizontal with the floor.
We decided we had to do everything differently and that’s kind of why we made it bold and why we made it just black and white. We didn’t put it on any fancy paper. I think it’s as simple white paper as you can get. We didn’t use any fancy production techniques.
It was all really to reinforce this concept of sabotaging the convention. That’s kind of the whole concept, the concept of the wine. The concept of how it’s closed, the concept of the packaging was sabotaging the convention.
JCW: Did you look up the meaning of Luddite?
SH: Well, I know Luddite very well because I know Niels and I know his wine.making philosophy, absolutely. So the Saboteurs were Luddites and they were the ones who actually took action against what they believed in. So the saboteurs were the ones that started to sabotage the machinery that they believed was compromising their craft.
JCW: Listen, it’s wonderful, I would have loved to have been at the Loerie’s to see –
SH: So would I, I wasn’t there either.
JCW: Oh weren’t you? Were you surprised when the Bronze came in?
SH: I was quite, to be honest. I’ve been a Loerie judge in the past for many years. What I think is good about Loerie’s, they often award the more sort of conceptual work, but very rarely do they award really edgy work. I think that this fits into both, so I was quite surprised, to be honest. But pleasantly so.
JCW: You’ve also won others haven’t you?
SH: Yes, not in the wine industry. I’ve won Loerie’s in other industries, in packaging for branding and other products in the past. A long time ago Jenny, not very recently. We’re not one of those studios that really chase Loerie’s, to be honest.
But yes, we have won in the past. As far as I’m aware, I don’t think there have been many in the wine industry. I think really for reasons that we’ve already discussed. I think there’s very little real challenge of the convention in the wine industry.
JCW: Listen, I think the wine label was absolutely fantastic and nobody will be able to miss them. So I think there’s the curiosity factor as well, of having them on the shelf. Congratulations to you and to your team.
SH: Thank you Jenny.
JCW: Really special. Sean Harrison, Creative Director of Whitespace Creative, celebrating the Bronze Loerie that he recently won for the Saboteur range from Luddite wines, but specifically for the Luddite Saboteur White 2015.