US so-called ‘rock artist’ Michael Godard has linked up with Alchemy Wines as he sees enormous potential in creating new designs for wine brands where he can treat the wine label as a miniature canvas to deliver real impact with a new audience. Richard Siddle talks to Alchemy Wines’ managing director David Rowldege about how the partnership came together and how he hopes it can help shake up what branded wines can look like on shelf.
Alchemy Wines’ David Rowledge works with producers all over the world developing a whole raft of wines, in alternative packaging, for bespoke markets. His latest idea is linking up with iconic US contemporary artist, Michael Godard, to use his eye-catching artwork to create a range of exclusive wine labels and brands.
When David Rowledge has an idea for a new product he won’t stop still until he has sourced the producer, agreed on the style of wine and got it in a bottle, can, pouch, bag in box, or the new paper Frugalpac bottle ready to push into the market.
That was very much the case when the opportunity came to potentially work with celebrated US artist, Michael Godard, the so-called “rockstar of the art world” famous for his flamboyant, in your face pop art designs that have been snapped up by film, rock and sports stars.
Rowledge takes up the story: “I was in Kyiv in November 2021 launching Alchemy’s brands into this exciting market, having a stand at the International Wines show in the capital. My stand incorporated my D&B label design, which has an “Angel and Devil” within the design. One of the visitors to the stand, Paul Dransfield came up to me and asked if I knew an American artist – Michael Godard – he said was famous for using an ‘Angel’ and ‘Devil’ in one of his beautiful designs. Especially a piece call “The Conflict” I was intrigued, so asked Paul to show me a range of Michael Godard’s artwork and introduce me to his agent in Las Vegas and asked if he might consider putting his own artwork on alcohol beverages. The answer quickly came back to say he was.”
Fast forward a few months and Rowledge and Alchemy Wines now has a worldwide contract to work with Godard to create wines with his paintings and artwork that can work on any kind of format, be it a glass bottle through to cans, Tetra Paks, bag in box or the breakthrough new Frugalpac paper bottle.
Rowledge admits he is very excited about the potential the Godard link up offers him, Alchemy Wines and his producer partners.
It certainly opens up opportunities not normally available to a new wine launch, as he explains: “We hope to be in talks in the near future with the Las Vegas Raiders American Football team about having the Godard-themed wines on sale in its bars and restaurants, because Godard was involved with all the artwork within the new two billion-dollar Allegiant Stadium. Godard being Las Vegas based seemed the perfect fit. Part of the stadium’s policy was that of “Community” – using local across building, development and design.”
Breaking the US
Which is why it makes sense, he says, to concentrate Alchemy’s initial work with Godard in trying to break into the US wine branded market. He is using his long standing close ties with local operator and broker, Fred Ordway, president at Uniquo Inc, to tap into his extensive relationships across the complex US three tier system.
“He can really help open doors for us in the US and it is great to be working with him. He is also really keen to be working with Godard and the wine designs he has created.”
Alchemy is already well placed in the United States and is working with major retailers and supermarkets, including Market Basket, in a number of states and cities including Boston, Maine and Massachusetts.
“We are also looking to target the likes of Total Wines and Trader Joes. We really think these labels can create a new branded wine market and it is great to have Fred’s knowledge on the ground to help us,” says Rowledge.
He says Ordway was particularly taken with the new Frugalpac paper bottle that has already had some success in the UK and other markets around the world as a genuine alternative to glass. Godard’s designs work particularly well on the Frugalpac format, he adds.
If the brand takes off it could be good news for the Fruglapac format and the new packaging options it offers, says Rowledge, who is already closely associated with the management team behind Frugalpac based in Ipswich. Breakthrough designs like this could help drive Frugalpac’s strategy to expand its bottle production machines into new international markets like the US. “Demand is very strong from so many regions,” adds Rowledge.
The Godard factor is clearly going to be key in opening doors, says Rowledge. “We hope to find a route into the market in Las Vegas and California initially and then see where it takes us. For example, we know Godard has his artwork already on over 120 cruise line boats based in and around Miami, so we think there has to be a good opportunity there as Michael’s artwork is already available on these boats to be purchased by guests. To have the wines and his artwork available for the same guests would be a great opportunity. His fame and profile in the US is hard to comprehend,” says Rowledge.
“We want to go back to the idea of the bottle being something you want to keep. Like the old Mateus rosé bottle when it was first introduced, and everyone had candles in them. We want to create the same magic around the bottles he helps us create.”
There are three wines in the initial range: A Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands, California; a Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles; and a Chardonnay from Santa Lucia Highlands. Wines that have a production cost at around $90 – $120 a case of 12 ex cellar, with the target of getting them on shelf for around a well priced $20 – $30 a bottle.
Alchemy is looking to partner with The Monterey Wine Company, based in King City, California. Teaming up with Shannon Valladarez, general manager and Victor Moreno, consulting director of production. Rowledge explains: “The team at Monterey, have been at the fore front of innovation in the region for a number of years. Installing the first commercial Flash Détente Technology System in the US, this with their micro-oxygenation, specialised tank controls, automated cap management and ultra-filtration systems, plus the state of the art humidified and temperature controlled barrel rooms. They will be the perfect partners. The winery is certified for organic and sustainable production, and Kosher options.”
Monterey are looking to become the first winery to be able to fill Frugalpac’s in California, and are potentially looking at buying a Frugalpac machine down the line.
Variety of formats
Crucially, he adds, it is looking to offer the wines in different formats from launch as that is the best way to really showcase what the designs can offer and how they can stand out on shelf.
At the moment they are using library images from Godards’ portfolio of work but there is the option of him creating something bespoke for Alchemy, so each new vintage becomes a bespoke and collectable piece of artwork and stands alone and an exclusive for the wine buying consumer who is engaging with the concept. Similar to how Rothschilds’ have an invited guest artist every vintage.
“Initially we are concentrating on the specific striking associated designs that resonate with wine and always looking at doing limited editions as we go along,” says Rowledge.
“He (Godard) sees this as a partnership and an opportunity for him to do something new and exciting. He wants it to be a long term opportunity and is keen to solidify and benefit from this new relationship and format for his designs.”
That is where Alchemy’s network of producers and suppliers around the world might come to play as Godard’s designs could be used for wines made from anywhere in the world, says Rowledge.
“We can look to do Spanish or French versions of the wines as the artwork is adaptable and can easily travel and work with different wines.”
He admits he has surprised even himself just how quickly he has been able to turn what was just an idea into such an exciting opportunity to create a very different kind of wine brand.
“We have been really fortunate to come across this incredible artwork and the potential it offers just by attending a trade fair in Kiev,” he says.
But, as they say, you make your own luck.