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Today, I'd like to introduce a new series: profiles on the wonderful artists and designers who have worked on our labels and boxes.

For a few reasons, instead of hiring a big firm to design our packaging, we decided to work with a bunch of different artists. For one thing, we wanted each new box and bottle to have its own distinct personality, so that there's always something new and interesting to decorate your dinner table or refrigerator. For another, we love design here at Cultivate and thought it would be more fun (and authentically us) to do it this way rather than just handing it off to another firm. And, we just liked the idea of getting to work with a bunch of artists!

 

For the Dream Series, the series of our first four bottles-- The Gambler, The Feast, Dream Walking, and Double Blind-- we gave the designers nothing but the name of the wine and the size of the label, and asked them to let their imaginations run free.

Lindsay McCabe, one half of the creative team LMNOP, designed Dream Walking, and here she tells us a little more about her style and influences. Above are some glimpses at some initial directions and early stages of the design process for Dream Walking.


When did you know you wanted to be a designer/artist?

Creating things has always been a huge part of my life. My mother is a folk artist so growing up there was always some sort of project happening. One of my first memories is of laying under my family’s dining room table and for the first time being able to color inside the lines of my coloring book. I remember how satisfying it felt to see the picture become mine; it was something I wanted to do over and over.

How did you get your start in design?

I got my start when I moved to NYC. I was given an internship at a small fashion-advertising agency called Lipman. I was eventually hired as a Jr Art Director. It was certainly stressful and often drove me to tears but I learned so many lessons that I still refer to on a daily basis.

What is your design style or specialty?

My style tends to be pretty tongue-in-cheek and quirky. I like to have fun with design and create things that will make people smile. I like to play with words and images together to create a moment that the viewer can relate to. We aren’t saving lives, we are here to make things look nice and have fun!

What is one of your favorite projects you've worked on? 

I love so many of our projects but I think the one I love most is our blog EAT THIS. It combines all the things that we love and all the things that define us; eating, creating, friends and family. (Images below are two posts from EAT THIS.)

What was your inspiration working on this Cultivate project?

I drew inspiration from the story behind the concept. Wandering through a vineyard letting your imagination take over. Allowing yourself to dream of new places to go. The fine line between sleep and consciousness. (Note from Eliza: Lindsay asked where the name Dream Walking came from, and we explained that it came the story of when Ali and Charles stood on top of a hill of the first vineyard they were to purchase, and Ali said to Charles, "What does it feel like to be standing in the middle of your dream?")

Do you have an early rounds of sketches, ideas, images that you worked with before you settled on the final concept? 

These (above) were a few original designs. They all incorporated nature and dreamy imagery. I had thought bringing in watercolor texture and handwriting could be nice. In the end, the final design hit the right balance.

Did you have a type of buyer or setting (or anything else) you imagined for this wine as you worked on it?

When I design wine labels I tend to design for myself. What I gravitate toward. So I guess I design for creative thinking people of any age group who appreciates design and loves wine!

Where do you go/what do you do when you need to be inspired?

I go anywhere and everywhere for inspiration. Just looking, listening and being open to let things inspire you. The NYC subway, new neighborhoods, old neighborhoods, family, friends, strangers, movies, music, fashion…

Do you have any favorite sites/blogs you visit for inspiration?

I go to http://ffffound.com/ for inspiration all the time. The mix of content is unparalleled.

If you could live in any era, what would it be and why?

Paris during the 1960’s seems like it would be tons of fun.

If you were to have any other profession, what would it be?

I would maybe own a little café or wine bar. A place where I could serve up delicious drinks and snacks and hang with inspiring people.

What other artists/designers or style icons inspire you?

Slim Aarons subject matter and photography is inspiring. I would like to live in any of his images for a day. Bridget Bardot’s from the 50’s & 60’s was pretty amazing and defining. Errol Morris’s documentaries always get my creative juices moving.

What are your current obsessions?

I’m pretty obsessed with all types of collage at the moment. I’m also obsessed with season 2 of Friday Night Lights, Lobster rolls from AndTurf in Montauk, night rides on my red 10-speed and Lambrusco. In no particular order!

Where can we follow you online?
http://lmnopcreative.com/

PS-- If you got an instant craving for red velvet cupcakes after seeing that image above, like I did, check out this box mix (also available at Cost Plus)! I emailed Lindsay asking for the recipe, and she was dear enough to admit that it was actually from a box! I was happy to hear that, because despite my sister making the best red velvet cake ever, I tried her recipe once, and failed miserably. The frosting resembled curdled glue and tasted worse. I will happily go the box route.

 

 

This week's pairing is from me, Eliza, your host here at the Cultivate blog!

This is my ideal pairing for: The Gambler

Ideally, I would drink this wine at: a ranch somewhere out West, on a day trip out to the middle of nowhere on horseback, around a bonfire at sunset.

Listening to: Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, 16 Biggest Hits, or Johnny Cash

Cooking: smores. Smores are a total guilty pleasure.

I'd be wearing: a super worn-in, beat-up pair of jeans that are hand-me-downs from my sister, cowboy boots I found in our attic when I was 15, and a white t-shirt (my favorite is the "summer shirt" from American Apparel).

If I could invite one famous person living or dead to join us for this gathering, it would be: Garrison Keilor, I think his voice and endless stories would be perfect for that setting, but truly, I was imagining it more like a romantic gettaway, in which case, Garrison definitely would not be there.

You don't have to be in Wyoming to replicate this kind of evening. Try a backyard campout instead! Or even just a backyard bonfire. Live in an apartment? Smores can be made on your stove top, and sneak up and camp on your roof!

Here are a few ideas for a backyard/rooftop campout:

On this site, you can order army-issue pup tents for $30.

If you want simple, just pick up the supplies for smores, there aren't many simpler desserts! If you're feeling ambitious, try these smores bars (picture above), which substitute graham-flavored chewy cookies for graham crackers (yum). 

Feeling really ambitious? Upgrade a fire ring to a real backyard fire pit. This site gives you a step-by-step guide on how to build a backyard fire pit.

Pendleton makes great blankets with a saddle-blanket aesthetic, and they even sell these fun leather "blanket carriers" that will definitely add extra flair to your campout.

Packing up wine glasses to take out in the backyard might sound like a broken-glass disaster waiting to happen, in which case, we'd opt for wine out of a cool travel mug like the one above. The ceramic body means the wine won't get a weird tin-ny taste a metal travel mug might give it.

 

Welcome to "Cultivate Pairings," a new series where we'll ask friends, writers, and our own staff members for their ideal "pairings" with one of the Cultivate wines-- everywhere from menu to music to setting.  

For our first one, we've asked our very own Nicole, who is definitely a hostest with the mostest.

This is my ideal pairing for: Wonderlust Chardonnay

Ideally, I would drink this wine at: a Lake Chautauqua summer vacation home, sitting on an andirondack chair at the lake's shore letting my feet dangle in the water as I am in the company of friends watching our kids play in the water and swing on the rope swing that hangs from the weeping willow tree, late in the afternoon on a beautiful summer day.

Listening to: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Greatest Hits.

Cooking: lemon grilled chicken with fresh vegetables accompanied by a fresh baguette and an arugula salad, and for dessert, a homemade peach pie!

I'd be wearing: a white eyelet sundress, my hair pulled back in a ponytail with a summer hat shading my face, and bare feet.

We’d have plenty of: outdoor games to pay - cornhole, bocce, croquet. 

If I could invite one famous person living or dead to join us for this gathering, it would be: Tom Petty, playing live!

Whether you're at the lake or not, you can create this casual summer afternoon for yourself by putting on some Tom Petty, filling mason jars with backyard flowers and more mason jars with candles (you can buy them 12 for $14 here), opening up a box of Wonderlust, inviting some friends over, and cooking up the menu below!

Here's a recipe we like for lemon grilled chicken, for the arugula salad, Nicole suggests adding toasted pine nuts, dried cranberries, sprinkled gorgonzola and a simple olive oil and balsamic dressing. And Nicole has shared her recipe for her peach pie!

2 rolled-out basic pie dough rounds
3/4 c sugar
2 T cornstarch
2 T quick cooking tapioca
1 t ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
7 ripe, but firm peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 T cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces

Fold 1 dough round in half and carefully transfer to 9-inch pie dish.  Unfold and ease into the pan, without stretching.  Pat firmly into the bottom and sides.

Stir together sugar, cornstarch, tapioca, cinnamon and salt.  Place peaches in large bowl and sprinkle them with the mixture as you toss to distribute evenly.  Transfer to the pie plate and dot with the butter.

Gently place 2nd dough round on top of the pie, carefully pinching the dough rounds together.  With a small sharp knife, cut about 6 slits on the top of the crust to allow steam to escape.

Refrigerate pie for about 30 minutes.

Place an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375.

Bake the pie for about 60 minutes.  Transfer to wire rack and let cool completely to set.  Serve room temperature.

 

In the previous posts we've examined how to evaluate and enjoy wine using our eyes and our nose. Now it's time to round out that experience and get to the fun part.

 

When we taste wine - or anything for that matter, we employ 2 senses simultaneously; taste and touch (believe it or not, we also smell when we taste, up through the back of our mouths to our nose). Our sense of taste interprets flavors (this you already knew), but our tongue perceives texture and weight and temperature; sensations associated with touch. Two wine-drinker words for these sensations are 'mouthfeel' and 'body'.



TASTE
Our sense of taste works through flavor receptors in our tongues. Basically we perceive four broad flavor groupings; sweet, salty, sour and bitter. While scientist argue over whether or not we only taste specific flavors in specific areas of our tongue, my experience tells me that certain flavors are more noticeable on specific parts of my tongue.

 

-Sweet kicks in right on the front tip of the tongue.
-Salty shows itself on the sides of the front half.
-Sour kind of smacks the back half of my tongue on the sides.
-Bitter triggers the very back and center of my tongue and is most unpleasant.

 

It is also important to consider when these flavors reveal themselves. Some flavors, like sweetness, I notice immediately, while sour flavors don't register until after I've swallowed, almost like a tart echo of flavor. Bitter flavors linger the longest, perhaps an evolutionary warning sign to stop drinking.

 


TOUCH
That wine has texture and that our tongues perceive texture in such vivid detail is why - I think - we find wine so compelling. Yes the aromas are intoxicating and food and friends make wine memorable and meaningful, but there is no other beverage that quite does to our tongues what wine does.

We don't just discuss a wine in terms of taste, we talk about how it feels. Wines can feel velvety or plush or tingly or zippy. Wines can feel round, powerful and decadent or linear, lithe and delicate. These textures take on dimension and shape and direction. They conjure descriptions whose associations reach far beyond wine.

 

A wine's texture is informed by its weight or body. Plainly put, your perception of how heavily or lightly the wine weighs on your tongue. 'Full-bodied, medium-bodied and light-bodied' are wine drinker speak for this sensation.

 

Tannin and alcohol content are the most significant contributors to a wine's body. Usually, the thicker the grape's skin and the riper the grape (more sugar to convert to alcohol), the more full-bodied the wine will feel. Conversely, white wine grapes with thinner-skins and lower sugar content are generally lighter-bodied.

 

 

There are of course exceptions to every rule and I encourage you to go out and find them.


 

 


Now that we've covered all the phases of wine tasting - color, aroma, flavor and texture - I urge you to go forth and taste! Be present, be active and most importantly, enjoy. And remember, tasting doesn't happen in a vacuum. All of our senses work together and inform each other when we taste. The more senses we bring to bear, the more completely we can understand and enjoy wine. Hopefully this means knowing not only whether or not we like a wine, but why we like it. This 'why', sets up a unique journey for exploring wine, one that I hope you will all pursue and enjoy!

Just came across this piece from sommelier Daniel Johnnes (the wine director for Daniel Boulud's restaurants) on Epicurious about pairing wine with foods and found his straightforward advice very useful! 

From the article:

Think About Preparation
When pairing wine with food, Johnnes finds many of the traditional guidelines "too general [and] too vague." Rather than focusing on main ingredients such as fish, chicken, and beef, Johnnes prefers to concentrate on how a dish is prepared: "Are you grilling it, poaching it, roasting it, serving it raw?" He also thinks about any sauces or garnishes. For example, poached chicken with tarragon sauce is "completely different" from grilled barbecue chicken, so you "can't just say [with] chicken I would serve a white wine or a red wine," he explains.

If you're faced with a variety of preparation styles, sauces, and garnishes, as during a cocktail hour, Johnnes recommends Champagne or sparkling wine because "it goes with a lot of different things and it's always festive." He also suggests that a good general wine to have on hand for multiple dishes is a nonoaked white wine such as Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, or Chablis. If you want a red option, Johnnes likes Pinot Noir because it's fairly light and pairs well with a lot of different foods.

Go for Likeness or Contrast
For Johnnes, there are two main approaches to wine pairing: likeness and contrast. Likeness, he explains, is pairing "a very rich beef dish" with "a wine that is equally rich or powerful [enough] to stand up to it." If you're serving a dish with some sweetness, such as a fish with peach or mango salsa, Johnnes recommends a wine with sweetness. And for a dish with acidity, like a salad with lemon, Johnnes says to balance it with a wine that has some acidity. The other pairing option is to look for a wine that creates some contrast. For example, when serving a creamy cheese, Johnnes likes to pair it with a wine that has some acid to "counter the richness" and avoid that "cloying, mouth-coating feel." Champagne is a nice choice, because the acidity and bubbles will act as a palate cleanser. Contrast also works with spicy foods, which pair well with wines that have a little fruitiness.

Build in Intensity and Specialness
"One very important way to orchestrate a meal," says Johnnes, "is to build in intensity, build in flavor, build in fireworks." In other words, start with the lightest, simplest wine and end with the richest, most special one. This typically means finishing with a really dynamite bottle of red—however, a terrific white could also be the "pièce de résistance." For example, if you're going to serve cheese at the end of a meal, Johnnes says, "A good white wine could go with a large variety of cheeses as well or better than red wines." But, he warns, "If you're serving a white wine at the end of the meal, it has to be at least as good in quality as the previous red wine."

Create a Theme
With so many people interested in wine, Johnnes thinks it can be fun to add a wine theme to an evening. This can be as subtle as offering two wine options for a course and asking for opinions. If you're serving Chardonnay, for instance, Johnnes suggests opening an American and a French and inviting your guests to compare them. Or, have wines from one country or one winery. Even if your friends don't get into the mini-tasting, they'll still enjoy the wine.