A collaborative effort

Graphic design students make their mark on FLCC wine
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When Finger Lakes Community College’s 2016 Cabernet Franc Dry Rosé won double gold at the New York Wine & Food Classic this past summer, the viticulture students and their instructors were not the only ones celebrating. The wine bore the In Transit label created by graphic design student Noah Estrella. The more exposure the wine gets, the more people see his label tracing a golden path through an image that evokes an ancient map.As long as FLCC viticulture students have been making wine as part of an academic program, their counterparts in the graphic design program have been crafting the labels. The project is a much-anticipated competition in the fall semester. As the viticulture students are harvesting grapes at the demonstration vineyard at Anthony Road Wine Company in Yates County, the graphic design students are brainstorming ideas and learning about the regulations set by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for wine labels.

Each group toils away—viticulture students in the teaching winery and graphic design students in the fine arts wing at the main campus—until late in the semester when they meet at the FLCC Viticulture and Wine Center in Geneva.

Graphic design students mat their works and hang them exhibit-style in the center’s lobby. Students take turns explaining their designs, how they got their ideas, and the techniques they used. It’s all part of the project, but there is also an element of salesmanship. The graphic design students want to make the best impression. The viticulture students examine and discuss the works and then select one to represent the wines aging in tanks in the next room.

Estrella, the 2016 winner, says that communicating with his fellow students as clients and then pitching his finished piece in front of an audience proved an invaluable experience.

“This exercise, as a student, is really necessary,” he says. “We’re making something that can be applied to the real world instead of just a classroom.”

Liz Brownell of Victor, professor of graphic design, agrees that the interaction is key, saying, “It is the best possible experience for my students to work for actual clients—to be in a position to field the wants, expertise, and diverse opinions of their clients with industry expectation and their own research to solve the design challenge.” 

Paul Brock of Geneva, associate professor of viticulture, says his students enjoy the interaction just as much. “The wine label collaboration between the viticulture students and design students has been a rewarding experience for the viticulture students. They take a lot of pride in the work they do while growing grapes and making them into wine. Students are excited to see the labels from the design students each year,” he says.

Brock and Brownell launched the label project in 2010, a year after the college got state approval for its viticulture and wine technology program—the only two-year program of its kind in the Northeast. They knew the exercise would model real-world design work, but the two professors found it enhanced student experiences in other ways.

“It was more personal. It made them think about how to represent the college—what does the college mean to them and what might it mean to others,” Brownell explains.

The project took on new meaning after the college received its winery license to produce a commercial product in 2015. Initial vintages were used for teaching purposes within the program, but the license opened the door to competitions like the New York Wine & Food Classic, considered the “Oscars” of the state’s food and wine industry.

The first year out, the FLCC program proved its mettle: the 2015 student-made Gather Dry Riesling won best limited production wine at the 2016 competition. The competition’s judges include wine writers, wine educators, retailers, restaurateurs, and other experts. All wines are judged “blind” on their own merits.

The stunning 2015 label, featuring an image of the end-of-summer Ring of Fire celebration on Canandaigua Lake, was designed by student Matt Roeder of Victor. For the last five years, Niagara Label of Akron, Erie County, has donated its services to make the labels, following the viticulture students’ choice.

It’s never an easy one.

The novice winemakers often have twenty or more labels to choose from, all different. Some students use traditional images of grape clusters, while others, like Estrella, work with more abstract designs and concepts.

“When deciding on one label from all of the choices, the viticulture students often get into very serious discussions about how the artwork reflects on both themselves and the wine,” Brock says. “Each year’s design represents those students who made the wine. When working with the artist to finalize the design, they get a glimpse into what it takes to design. That package that includes their wine and label represents their efforts over two years as a student in the program.”

The event has evolved to include the culinary arts program—established at the college in 2011—to provide hors d’oeuvres for the wine label exhibit reception. In addition, the reception is structured to allow more opportunity for questions and critiques and includes representatives from the wine industry.

“That really allowed students to develop their designs more deeply with the input of their peers in viticulture as well as experts from the field. It also allowed for students to network and gain contacts in the industry,” Brownell says. “It is so valuable to allow students to have meaningful interdisciplinary dialogue. The students get really excited, and the process is ‘all in’ on both sides from start to finish.” 

The authors work in the FLCC community affairs office. The FLCC viticulture and wine technology program and the graphic design program are both two-year associate degree programs. For more information, visit flcc.edu or contact the One Stop Center at (585) 785-1000 or onestop@flcc.edu.

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