Artwork by Scott Sandell, a Minnesota native and Sag Harbor resident, is on display all over the world. His “works-on-paper,” as he calls them, can be found in the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela, the U.S. State Department in Havana, Cuba, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Chrysler Museum, Harvard University, Emory University and many other places.
But if serious art collecting is beyond your means, there’s another way to enjoy Sandell’s considerable talent – on a bottle of several local wines.
In the fall of 2002, Richard Pisacano, owner of Roanoke Vineyards in Riverhead, approached Sandell about designing labels for his new winery’s wines. Sandell jumped at the chance.
“When I was just out of college, my cousin suggested that we develop a taste for fine wines. He was in law school and we both anticipated great wealth,” said Sandell with a chuckle during a recent interview “We bought several cases of first growth Bordeaux, and we knew that Chateau Mouton Rothschild commissions an artist to produce a label every year. So, for the past 25 years I’ve been waiting for their call. In the meantime, I did develop a taste for wine And luckily Rich called me.”
Chateau Mouton Rothschild pays its label artists in wine, which really appealed to Sandell, until he started designing a lot of labels. “I quickly developed a studio full of wine, but when I walk into the IGA in Sag Harbor to buy tomatoes or tuna, they still prefer to be paid in cash.”
When Pisacano and Sandell started work on the label for Roanoke Vineyards 2000 Merlot, they did it “exactly the right way,” said Sandell. “Rich met with me and told me about the wine. We tasted the wine and spent a lot of time talking about it. It was our mutual feeling that the label had to not only tell you something about the wine, but also about Roanoke Vineyards. Let me just interject that the wine is in a very big bottle. It’s still 750 ml, but it weighs four pounds without the wine. Add in the fact it’s a big wine, very powerful, very bold, very well crafted, very elegant. Then take a look at Rich, he is a really big guy, and yet very elegant. Top off the equation here with the fact that we had a big winemaker, Roman Roth, involved, and it was all big, big, big! It had to be BIG.”
Asked about picking the final label design, Sandell jokes that he made the mistake of telling Rich and his wife Soraya that they absolutely had to love the image because they would be seeing it for years, “dreaming about it, wearing it, and it would become a part of them. 138 designs later, they chose the first one I showed them.” That first design stemmed from a drawing Sandell did of Pisacano’s merlot vines in the dormant winter months.
Since the creation of that first label, Sandell has designed labels for Waters Crest Winery in Cutchogue, Murphy-Goode Estate Winery in Sonoma and other labels for Roanoke Vineyards that are evolutions of and expansions on the original design. He’s also working on labels for a few other local wineries.
It’s safe to say that Sandell has found another artistic outlet, and he seems to love the challenge.
“Designing wine labels is tremendous fun. You have less than twenty square inches to say something about the wine, something about what you’re thinking, and something that will convince somebody to pick the bottle up and buy it. Easy, right? Well, sometimes it is. But more often, I’ve found the clients don’t really know what they want. In that case it can take a long time.”
When asked if he’d maybe “retire” to label design, Sandell scoffs lightheartedly. “Retire!? Going in the studio is like sticking your finger in a light socket. The very idea that I wouldn’t keep making my art, and now also designing the labels, would be awful. Besides, since I am an artist, I need to keep working until I drop. I have two kids in college, one at Bowdoin and one at Tufts. Need I say more?”
learn more about Scott Sandell’s artwork or to contact him about
designing a wine label, contact Deepwater Editions at
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 725-3365. His work is on display in the
Berkshires currently, with shows in Atlanta and San Francisco over the
next few months.
(This story appeared originally in the 8/5/05 issue of Dan's Papers)