August 1, 2006
Pairing Food and Design
The Grateful Palate brings a whimsical graphic sensibility to its new wine offerings.
Dan Philips travels the world sniffing coffee beans, swirling Syrah, and sipping rarities like agave syrup to serve hungry fans of the Grateful Palate, a catalog of gastronomical delights. That voracious appetite for the unconventional—his famous Bacon of the Month Club, for example, offers more than 40 personally selected varieties—is reflected in the refreshing look of the Grateful Palate’s graphics, created by a loose collective of California Institute of the Arts affiliates. For a line of wines introduced this summer, Philips’s team has tapped a few new names to ensure that the bottles shine. “I taste everything, I meet everyone, and every item needs to pop,” he says. “Providing something beautiful to look at is yet another service.”
Since 1999 Los Angeles designer Beth Elliott has led the transformation of the Grateful Palate from a black-and-white catalog into a luscious graphic novel of gourmet goods. As Philips’s needs grew, Elliott pulled other designers—many of whom had studied or taught at her grad-school alma mater, California Institute of the Arts—into a casual network that is perfect for the eclectic product roster. “We have a shared ideology, and we’re all collaborative people,” Elliott says of their whimsical aesthetic. “Everyone has distinct voices, but for us it’s familiar to blend together in this way.” For the wine launch James W. Moore, Mr. Keedy (his professional name), Gail Swanlund, Geoff Kaplan, and David Karim are designing labels, catalogs, and a new wine-focused Web site that will be up this fall.
Philips hopes to leverage his stable of talent against the industry’s pretentions. “You’ve got these French winemakers where a chateau on a white label is the model,” he says. “The shelves of a wine shop are generally very boring. But the material life of wine is rich, if you look at growing regions like Tuscany, the Barossa, and Napa.” Although Philips and his partners, vintner Chris Ringland and grape grower David Hickinbotham, are established eno-celebrities, they vowed to make these vintages transcend rare rootstocks and aged oak barrels. “Wine is also the experience of having the bottle: from the shop to the tabletop,” Philips says. “Everything is as important to the experience as it is to the wine inside.”
The premier offerings—Bitch (a grenache) and Bon-Bon (a rosé), followed by a line of cabernets (including the affordably priced ‘r’ and the reserve ‘R’)—certainly seem poised to crush any competition from staid white-label wines. Bitch designer Keedy attributes this success to Philips’s unorthodox attitude toward design. “He tells me all the bizarre ideas he has; I tell him all the bizarre ideas I have. That’s an important part of our process,” Keedy says. “You don’t feel like you’re just working for him. He knows how to work with designers.”