Looking at labels…

by Cynthia Wands

Photography by David Parr for San Francisco Rep’s production of MACHINAL

Last night was a night of nostalgia and perplexed inquiry. It involves a bottle of wine. We had saved a bottle of wine to pair with some exotic menu, sometime in the future, when we can entertain and have dinners with friends again. But given Eric’s ongoing chemotherapy, we know we might not be able to do this any time soon. So we had roasted a chicken, and thought, oh heck, let’s break out the good stuff:

Le Cuvier Sangiovese

This was a gift from wine loving friends. We love this winery, (“small-production wines utilizing wild yeasts, dry-farmed fruit and neutral barrel aging”) and the winemaker (John Munch: “a plenipotentiary & elliptical pontificator”), and we were really excited to finally taste this wine. (The only online mentions we could find for it: “Strong notes of bold cherries and blueberries followed by oak and chocolate hints in a deep inky body that had mild length and minimal tannins.” Also: “Not available in retail stores.” Also: Not currently listed as available from the winery.) It’s not an especially beautiful label, and it doesn’t tell you a lot about the wine.

Here’s where it becomes like theatre.

If you go see a performance, and you’re familiar with the venue, or the director, or a cast member, or the playwright, you might read the program for the show with a lot of interest, because, you want to know more about the ingredients that went into this production.

And you can find out bits about them: where they studied, or who they’ve worked with, what shows have they done, is that a wig or is that their real hair.

And the program can label their identity for you: Oh, they’re from an Ivy League school, or they worked with that guerrilla  theatre. Look, they got produced over there. And that’s an interesting seasons coming up. So you make assumptions about who they are and what they’re like.

That’s the same sort of assumptions that can happen with a wine label. We knew the grape (Sangiovese – used in Chianti) and we knew the winery and the wine maker. But then, it can happen the label doesn’t tell you enough.

Because this was such an INCREDIBLE wine – (like an incredible performance) and we wanted to know more. What year was it made? (not on the label). What vineyard did it come from? Is it a blend of vintages? Are there other vintages to compare it to? And can we find another bottle of this? (The answer is no.)

The label didn’t tell us any of that. Sometimes wineries will squeeze in all kinds of information on their labels about who they are and what they do and when they did it. But this winery is different. On the back of the bottle, we could read: “DIRECT QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS TO THE WINEMAKER. winemaker@lcwine.com”

“DIRECT QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS TO THE WINEMAKER. winemaker@lcwine.com”

(John Munch, the winemaker, has a blog about his adventures in winemaking. You can find it here: https://www.lcwine.com/index.cfm?method=blog.blogList&websiteContactID=C0104A27-D7A1-1167-7A54-E363760DC45E)

An online search of this wine and more comments about it was not fruitful (forgive the pun). It would have been more satisfying to drive up to the Le Cuvier winery and get a chance to talk to John about this wine and his approach to the grape. (Here’s one of his wonderful blog pieces about his approach: https://www.lcwine.com/blog/Why-Am-I-So-Stupid-)

But back to my comment about – here’s where it becomes like theatre. I’ve been to some incredible theatre, with a one page program, maybe it’s not very beautiful, listing the company (or not) and the production details (or not). And then there are the times when I’ve been able to go out with the cast/crew after a show, and you get a chance to talk about the performance, and the rehearsal, and the audience. That’s when you can really find out – how did this come about? Where did it come from?

A postcard for MACHINAL, directed by Michelle Truffaut at San Francisco Rep.
When I posed for this picture I had no idea of what the image would look like.

Years ago I performed in MACHINAL at San Francisco Rep, and the visual/performance aspects of this show were wildly imaginative, incorporating neon lights, staccato staging/blocking and original music. This production postcard was the best “label” that could illustrate that show. Looking at it now reminds me not only how difficult it was to do this version of the script, but how unique and brave it was.

Last night, searching for more information on a bottle of wine, I found another reminder of how we need to see beyond a label, and how it can spark an inquiry into the unknown.

1 thought on “Looking at labels…

  1. Oh Cynthia, I love this so much! The picture postcard is fab and when it popped up on the screen I thought “That looks just like my Cynthia!”. Great read, just another example of those beautiful writing skills…and now I just want a glass of good red wine!

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