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Photography by David Benthal

Wine bottles can have striking label designs — and Long Island wines are no exception. 

From those that are bursting with color, like Sparkling Pointe’s Carnaval series, to those that represent the history of the region, no two winery bottles are alike. While each business has its own process for developing labels, there is a motif in the philosophy behind them: They need to say something about both the wine and the winery.

“How can we have a wine label that describes the wine in a feeling and sensory way?” said Amanda Rivera, creative director at RG|NY, where label designs are varied but unified by elegant brush strokes of watercolor. “RG|NY is very art-forward. We’re always trying to do something edgy, fresh, and paint feeds into that.” 

Sparkling Pointe’s labels are inspired by Brazilian art. Owners Tom and Cynthia Rosicki, who participate in Carnival, an annual Brazilian festival, incorporated that tradition into their Carnaval wine bottles. The result is a burst of color that is unlike anything you’d normally find on a wine shelf. 

You’ll also find Yemanjá, the Brazilian goddess of the sea, on several Sparkling Pointe bottles meant to reflect the region.

“We’re on the North Fork, being close to the water, having the maritime terroir climate and tying in that Brazilian influence,” said Melissa Rockwell of Sparkling Pointe. But with the North Fork being a younger wine region, with a tight-knit community, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that several wineries in the area have sought the services of local artists to help develop their brands and artistic identities. Perhaps no one person has had more of an artistic influence on the North Fork wine scene than Nadira Vlaun of Greenport, who has designed labels for vineyards including McCall Wines, Saltbird Cellars, Kontokosta Winery, Sherwood House Vineyard and Hound’s Tree.

“I feel like a wine label is a little postage stamp of a story that represents who the owner is, who the winemaker is, where the region is.”

Nadira Vlaun, Artist

A designer by trade, she grew up in a family of creatives and free spirits in Key West, Fla. She’s lived on the North Fork for 16 years, having moved from Manhattan to Greenport to raise her family. Her quiet, peaceful demeanor hides a rich artistic voice and vision that has spread throughout the fork.

“We found the community here was so welcoming and beautiful,” Vlaun said. “Greenport was so walkable and manageable. It was a little quieter than it is now.”

Her first winery project was with McCall Wines.

“For me, it all starts with one-on-one discussion,” she said. “Russ McCall took me in the car and we went through the vineyard. He told me the history of it. He was so aware of the land and his desire to be very conscientious of the location.”

Vlaun found that McCall came across as a “classic” person and chose a cursive font for the lettering. The colors were pulled from the vineyard’s buildings and incorporated a small hill where the pinot noir was planted. 

“I get to taste the wines, and I listen,” Vlaun said. “I’m not a trained wine drinker, but I appreciate it.” 

More recently, Vlaun worked on the Saltbird Cellars label and name. Vlaun got to know Robin Epperson-McCarthy, whose personal story of sailing, traveling and winemaking in New Zealand helped the artist come up with the “Saltbird” name. 

“It kept coming back to birds for me,” Vlaun said. 

Epperson-McCarthy knew that Vlaun had worked on other labels. 

“What makes her truly special is that none of them looked like Nadira,” she said. “They looked like they were representations of those brands. The words that we kept using were ‘this time, this place’ — this is a wine made at this time made specifically in this place.” 

“[Nadira] wasn’t the only company I considered,” Epperson- McCarthy said. “The other company that I talked with basically just copied what I liked from somebody else, and I’m not OK with that. I wanted something unique. Nadira, like me, thinks outside the box and comes up with something new and original, but in keeping with this time and place.” 

Vlaun and Epperson-McCarthy tasted the wines, which had not yet been bottled, and talked about the winemaker’s background. She was struck by how easy it was to work with Vlaun, who has worked in the corporate space but gives her design work an appropriate personal touch. 

Vlaun presented Epperson-McCarthy with three different designs and they settled on the bird. 

“She basically did this word exercise where she just took different words and components and, almost like a poet, was going through them,” Epperson-McCarthy said. 

Vlaun has also learned about the legalese that must appear on every bottle and the technical aspects of label design. 

“I researched, I taught myself and spent hours reading all the regulations,” she said. “The sizing, where are they bottling, what are the bottling systems? There’s a number of different ways of bottling. I have to coordinate with the printers to make sure that’s correct. The labels need to be made a certain way. It’s a lot of communication and checking and double-checking.” 

While Long Island’s wineries have a lot of different looks and feels, Vlaun notes that the terroir often comes into play no matter the brand. “The water, the clay … those elements connect them, but it’s due to the close proximity [of the wineries],” she said. 

Vlaun also does design work for other businesses, many of which are on the North Fork, including Brix & Rye and 1943 Pizza Bar. Her work on the North Fork is varied, elegant and striking, and you’ve likely had some of it in your own wine collection. 

“It’s a labor of love,” she said.