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Photograph by Christina Waters
Get The Picture?: Vine Hill's new label depicts the vineyard's idyllic locale.

Badge of Honor

With the creation of its new label, Vine Hill invokes its legendary past.

By Christina Waters

THE SEPIA label is framed by a creamy border. Against the dark brown field, embossed with a watermark of grape clusters, floats an atmospheric view of Vine Hill, the vineyards in the foreground overlooking a procession of mountain ridges. Fog settles in the valleys below, watched over by a few iconic oaks. The words "Vine Hill" at the top, and "Santa Cruz Mountains" along the bottom, are embossed in gold. It is an elegant, appealing and site-specific wine label.

It may have taken the winery team a year to develop, but the spark for the new Vine Hill label actually began 140 years ago. Thanks to the Jarvis brothers, Scotsmen who settled and planted grapes near the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1863, this area has long been known as "Vine Hill." The land passed from their hands to several winemakers until David Bruce and then Ken Burnap of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard put the fog-cooled acres on the viticultural map. Since 2004, Vine Hill has been in the care of entrepreneur Nick Guerrero and the winemaking skill of Sal Godinez.

The team's first labels--Gatos Locos and Cumbre--were grouped under the "Wines of Vine Hill" umbrella. But this month history comes full circle with the debut of the Vine Hill Winery label. "We all agreed that we should embrace the Vine Hill history," Guerrero recalls. He and marketing director Lore James began brainstorming. They already had two wildly different labels. One displayed two colorful cats strutting across a bright orange label. The other upmarket label had "Cumbre" in flowing letters. Both were "Wines of Vine Hill." Confusion was inevitable.

"It felt impersonal," James confessed. The idea for the new label came up when the winery's front gate needed signage. "We wanted to get back to roots," Guerrero chuckles, "and away from the multiple label branding."

So "Vine Hill" it was to be. Lore used her own art background to begin playing with visual ideas. At Open Studios, she discovered the Art Maps by Donna van Dyke. "Nick's love of maps and history made it all seem exactly right," James recalls. Discussion with the artist began. "It was very emotional and very exciting," James recalls. Working with designer Fred Gillespie and using Van Dyke's custom image of the property, James settled on the cream-on-sepia for pinot noirs. "It had a historical look," she says. The chardonnay labels reverse the color scheme, sepia-on-cream. "Lore made it happen," Guerrero insists.

The Vine Hill label will appear on approximately 2000 cases of pinot noir and chardonnay annually from vintage 2007 on. The price point of roughly $30 will put the new house label squarely between the Gatos Locos brand, which will still appear on a range of varietals, and the flagship Cumbre, limited to no more than 200 cases a year of Estate and Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. And the Vine Hill legacy comes full circle.

The 2005 Semillon from Ahlgren is a supple creature of minerals, forest earth, crushed leaves and a touch of dried pears, all beautifully balanced and big enough (13.8 percent) to work before and after meals. It has become a permanent resident of our refrigerator door. A steal for $12.99 at Shopper's Corner.

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