Wine labels are an essential component of packaging. They tell an instant story, even without prolific prose. A label can attract you, seduce you, entertain you, educate you, provoke you, and inspire you.
The lengths to which label creators will go to render something eye-catching and provocative has yet to be maxed—though Randall Grahm and his plethora of multi-talented Bonny Doon designers (including Chuck House, Ralph Steadman, and Lindsey Sonu) surely tried. Sometimes, though, a simple graphic element suffices to spark interest.
For Cliff Lede (Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa, Calif.) and his son Jason, honoring the beloved family matriarch came naturally. Cliff Lede purchased Breggo Vineyards in California’s Anderson Valley, just outside Boonville, in 2009. In 2013, he renamed the brand after his mother, Florence Elise Lede, who grew up in Alberta, Canada, and had a penchant for gardening and home winemaking. Her initials, FEL, became the brand moniker.
On the initial FEL chardonnay and pinot gris labels, a small, simply rendered yellow tulip—Florence’s favorite harbinger of spring after a long Canada winter—appeared in the lower right. For the pinots, including the Savoy Vineyard designate, the tulip appeared in creamy red and orange. Jason remembers his grandmother, who passed in 2015, as a traditionalist who loved to dress up, wearing gold jewelry and bright lipstick. “She was so crazy proud of her son and was really taken aback that he had named the winery after her,” he remembers.
In her honor, the Ledes refreshed the labels in 2019, enlarging the tulip, placing it on the upper left of the label, and rendering it in classic gold (for the whites) and deep burgundy with a gold outline (for the pinots). The vintage is also called out with a scripted “v.” Very classy. Says Jason, “I see a lot more of her in the new label. I love being able to carry her story on.”
While there may have been some initial confusion as to what those three letters signified, there was no doubting the continuity of the wine inside. Lede wisely kept on Breggo’s winemaker of record, Ryan Hodgins, who still crafts FEL wines to this day from a series of stellar vineyard sites in the Anderson Valley, including Savoy, which he purchased in 2011. Each of Hodgins’s wines is thoughtfully and intentionally made, capturing that sense of site that often gets lost when winemakers get too enamored of their own ability to “craft” wine instead of just shepherd it.
Florence Elise surely appreciated the results. Jason recalls that, at the last Christmas they spent together, they shared a bottle of 2012 Savoy Vineyard chardonnay, which was the very first vintage of FEL. “She loved it!” he recalls. “We had a very good time.”
Here’s to you, Florence Elise. And to the power of imagery.