Wine Labels Gone Wild

A slideshow of bottle art that pushed the envelope of taste—and the law.


Last month, federal authorities approved the use of nudity on a trio of wine labels from Jolie-Laide, a micro-producer in Sonoma, which won approval for three line drawings by tattoo artist Kapten Hanna. It was a watershed moment, one that will help winemakers—and the Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)—decide how far is too far when it comes to provocative new bottles.

As for now, it's still a gray area. Officially speaking, the government prohibits anything "obscene or indecent." But in the absence of written standards for what that really means, the evaluation falls to individual agents who review more than 150,000 wine and alcohol labels each year. This calls to mind the old-fashioned and arbitrary "I know it when I see it" method, which Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart invoked when confronting pornography in 1964 (Jacobellis v. Ohio).

Here are 12 labels that push the federal limits of obscenity and indecency—and whether the art was ultimately approved or rejected.

The wine: Jolie-Laide
The controversy: Nude women
The story: Owner Scott Schultz changes the labels on the 280 cases of Jolie-Laide wines annually. This year he tapped Bay Area tattoo artist Kapten Hanna to create the labels on three wines. Fortunately, the wine has been turning heads for what's inside the bottle as well as outside: Jolie-Laide ("pretty-ugly" in French) celebrates little-known grape varieties by making pretty renditions of the ugly ducklings. Schultz, who works at Wind Gap wines, says, "We were hoping because it's just black and gray sketch art, it would remove the sexuality and evoke a more simplistic, old-school approach to the wines."
Approved or rejected? Approved

Images courtesy of respective brands.
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