IT’S NO SECRET that the label on a bottle of wine carries a lot of weight, but for Michael McDermott, the de facto label design whisperer who has been responsible for creating the labels from any revered vineyards over the last 20 years, it’s a work of art that stands entirely on its own. “For me, there’s nothing more cliche than trying to represent characteristics of a wine when the nature of wine is dynamic,” he explained to us. “It changes vintage after vintage, and to me, there’s nothing more boring than trying to represent wine itself on the label. The greater catalog of the humanity is just a much more fertile place to look for ideas.”

AT HIS STUDIO  in Napa, he is an army of one, overseeing the delicate ideation and arduous design process that can reshape how we interact with a wine, starting with what he wittingly refers to as a “psych exam” as he works alongside the founders of the winery. “My studios are set up as a little design museum, and I kind of lead people around to see what they respond to,” he says. “I’m observing certain tastes and style thresholds, so I make certain inferences and begin to come up with material.” From here, these concepts start to take shape in the form of handcrafted works all generated by McDermott himself through any multitude of materials and techniques. “I think people come to me for originality,” he says. “So if I started following other rules, then I would be corrupting my own mission.”

YOU WON’T FIND any of the tired, commonplace motifs on the resulting labels: vines, grapes, sunshine. He prefers to dig deeper, with a result that he feels should not just grab your eye on a shelf. “You want to make a discovery,” he says. “When something stops me, it’s usually because it portrays the rules in some new way, or it presents something new or interesting or beautiful or logical, or maybe a combination of all of those things.”

This philosophy shines through in his work for Faust, where McDermott has lent his discerning eye to our label designs, including The Pact 2018. Here, he depicts the sun and the moon, representing life and death, alongside The Flower of Pride, found in Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus. Though it appears as a “taraxacum” –or a humble dandelion –it embodies a collective scholastic enterprise and the pride or vanity that comes along with it.

Back to Pact Journal | Volume I | Spring 2021