22 February 2007

Surprise Find

While nosing around a used bookstore, I found an old coffee table book called The Treasury of American Wines by Nathan Chroman. This edition was published in 1976, the year of my birth. (Originally written in 1973, I'm assuming it was updated and reprinted to take advantage of the Bicentennial and the Judgment of Paris.)

It was in great condition, and for $2 I thought it would be a fun read. Plus, I was intrigued by the label design shown on the bottles featured on the dust jacket. Should anyone be curious, it's practically free on Amazon.

A brief note: despite the title of the book, it's almost entirely about California. 160 pages of the Golden State, 20 pages of New York, and a mere 6 pages devoted to the rest of the nation.

As with all photos on this site, click the image below for a bigger version. The whole dust jacket is about two feet long.

I was pleased to see the Schramsberg sparkler on the cover: their label design has barely changed in 30 years. The logo is still elegant yet uncluttered, but the body text has shifted from a basic sanserif font (Bell Gothic?) to the much nicer Optima. Speaking of Optima, you can see it in the minimalist Ridge wine label, another good yet simple design that has stood the test of time. Among the others, there's the usual spattering of Snell Roundhand and Shelley script fonts, which are still quite popular around the world. In fact, I enjoy going to tastings and counting how many wines present use Shelley Allegro for the primary text. My record is five out of fifteen.

Many of the labels seem to reflect traditional European design, including the use of Fraktur text for wines that aren't German. It's interesting that they don't really reflect the art or graphic design styles of the time. None of them share elements with book covers or movie posters of the era. The one oddball of the group is the 1962 Stony Hill, which uses an Old West font and a simple drawing of some vines and grapes. As you can see today, they've traded the Ponderosa for a classier serif font but have kept the original drawing, just in a more subdued form.

And some of the grape names are interesting. Several Chardonnays are listed as "Pinot Chardonnay", and then there's the "Johannisberger Riesling". Likewise, this was the era of California burgundy, chablis, and champagne. Though I give the author credit for suggesting that "...an attempt should be made to change these, too. Champagne could be 'Sparkling Napa Valley White' or 'Sparkling Cucamonga Red'..." Kudos on the first name, but Cucamonga lacks a certain romance.

The book itself is typeset completely in Helvetica, mostly in two or four columns, which makes it feel like a late 70s/early 80s middle school textbook. I did graphic design work for eight years, and I pay a lot of attention to type. Believe it or not I occasionally open a book--especially if it's just straight text--and smile or frown at the font selected. There's a whole world out there beyond Times New Roman. And if you set something in Comic Sans, don't stick that crap in front of me. Now the diamond-edged punctuation marks in Goudy, the clean lines of Sabon, or the way that an uppercase P doesn't completely close in Plantin? Dreams come true.

I did manage to pull myself away from typesetting concerns and read the book, and there's a lot of good historical information about California wine. Many of the wineries still seem to be in operation; I assume that the others were bought out by larger wineries or other buyers. It's funny to read about Fetzer as a new winery and Mendocino as an unexplored wine region.

Readers who were into wine in the 70s, please drop your impressions and memories in the comments.


Skeeter said...

Ben, I was into wine in the 70's with your Dad!! What did it say about Boones Farm Strawberry Hill? I can tell you if you drink it your head will hurt tomorrow!!

Benito said...

Believe it or not, there was a mention of Boone's Farm. The author had a small section on E & J Gallo, where he listed some of their... lower tier wines: Boone's Farm, Thunderbird, and Ripple.

Also, on the entry for Sutter Home there is no mention of White Zinfandel, which was just developed in 1975. Instead it's all about the history of the Trinchero family and their standard wine offerings of the time.