As many of you know, creative director Dave Griffin and I publish Corked the Comic, an independent comic strip that pokes fun at the wine industry ... admittedly an easy target.
From day one, Geerlings & Wade has embraced and encouraged our independent project. We have produced two previous award-winning tie-in wines for them, featuring our characters under their Mira Luna label: Crusher & Stemmer Red [CAL914, $12.99] and Tough Day Chardonnay [SON573, $17.99].
The 2009 Red Brick Tough Dame Cabernet [CAL922, $14.99] is our latest creation. This project served multiple purposes:
We honored our commitment to continue to produce Corked tie-in wines exclusively for Geerlings & Wade. We created a viable follow-up to the Tough Day Chardonnay, which (like the wine itself), can still resonate with people if they are not familiar with Corked the Comic.
For the first time, we totally integrated a wine with the comic's story arc, rather than just featuring our characters on the label. We coordinated the unveiling of the wine, just prior to release, with the most recent installment of our strip (episode 22).
We also commenced non-wine merchandising tie-ins (think t-shirts), and we sated our almost palpable desire to do a vintage film noir poster homage label.
Creating the actual wine in the bottle was already part of my day-to-day wine director duties. I tasted hundreds of domestic Cabernet Sauvignons, looking for components to use in our three exclusive Geerlings & Wade Cabernet labels: Red Brick Cellars, Brava Terra and Clarim. (For a capsule view of that process with one wine, please see Building the 09 Red Brick.)
We unearthed, then worked into better shape via the blending table, a small lot of '09 Cabernet that emerged quite fine, but did not fit any of our programs. This 300 or so cases became Tough Dame.
We used the Red Brick name as a prequel to the new Tough Dame moniker, because we already had a much larger run of 2009 Red Brick Cellars Vintner's Select Cabernet Sauvignon on the bottling schedule, and we could piggy back the Tough Dame production. Plus, an exclusive tie-in wine for Geerlings & Wade ought to proudly bear one of their exclusive Cabernet label names. Dave had just recently re-designed the '09 Red Brick Cellars Vintner's Select Cabernet Sauvignon art, and was mentally still in the Red Brick label zone.
Our character Milleyous Rolland appears on the label – she may or may not be Michel Rolland’s niece – and there's always a trust issue with her. She debuted in episode 13 as one our two recurring "bad girl" characters, a winery consultant. (By contrast, Chenin Meunier on the Tough Day Chardonnay label is our "good girl" character, in the strictest comics and illustration art sense of the word.) Milleyous resigns from the winery in episode 22 to start her own venture, Tough Dame, under a possible embezzlement cloud.
She changes her appearance every time we use her, originally as different actresses from iconic French films. She also appears (deep breath) in episodes: 14 panel 5, 15 panel 6, 17 panels 3 and 4, 18 panel 3 and 19 panel 2. Finally, she is James on the Isotope Comic Lounge toilet seat. Two of Dave’s more obvious strengths as an artist are caricature and pin ups, so I strive to write towards them.
Our Milleyous of episode 22 is a composite. Her stylish, slightly elongated body, modern hairstyle and attitude are based on the vintage paperback cover women drawn by legendary illustrator Robert McGinnis. The money shot in episode 16 was our previous McGinnis tribute.
The dress was worn by Rita Hayworth in Gilda. Her face and pose with the gun are modified Jane Greer in Out of the Past. The tag line, vignette at the bottom, and limited color palette echo "Poverty Row" studios B noir posters, all of whom had to minimize their costs. Quite often the poster proved better than the film itself.
We try not to produce our strip in a vacuum. We previewed this label to the nation’s leading vintage film poster scholar, Sam Sarowitz (author of The Art of the Modern Movie Poster and proprietor of New York City’s legendary-in-film-circles shop Posteritati). He reassured us we had not strayed from the path:
"Great noirish label. Love it. Thanks for sharing."
The wine itself reflects the Tough Dame label – noir fatale in a bottle. All-at-once gorgeous, stylish and seductive - trouble with a capital "T". When you pop that cork, the odds are you'll be just like Robert Mitchum under Jane Greer’s spell in Out of the Past …
"Baby, I don’t care."