Benton-Lane, the stamp that refuses to be licked!

This brand goes back to when you had to lick a postage stamp. Long before they were self-adhesive. It started with a meeting in the early 90’s with Carl Doumani and Steve Girard. Both Carl and Steve were household names in the Napa Valley, each one with their own respective winery at the time; Stags’ Leap and Girard Vineyards. The new project under discussion was a Pinot Noir property in the Willamette Valley, Oregon.

Clean Slate Design

The project had no name at the beginning. There wasn’t much Pinot Noir planted either. As a former sheep ranch, it was an open range sitting in a region ideal for growing a temperamental Burgundy varietal. Once the Benton-Lane name was settled, I set to work. It was about as wide open a palette as any designer could hope for.

I Recalled My Stamp Collection

An old family friend got me into stamp collecting. All the designs and destinations fascinated me. Somewhere along the way I learned about a very famous U.S. stamp called Inverted Jenny. It was our first air mail stamp and it cost $2.00 in 1918. Today it is worth over a million dollars.

It’s value centers on a printing oversight. The first press run released a small number of stamps with the airplane flying upside down. The few stamps that slipped out there before the error was discovered were golden.

Inverted Jenny was my inspiration for Benton-Lane. I liked the association with a rare and valuable stamp. It was small and colorful. In addition, a stamp had never appeared on a wine label – it was a first. I had the good sense to ask my friend and illustrator Tom Hennessy to collaborate on the project. I know my limitations.

Postal Cancellation Marks on the Capsule

Staying with the postage stamp theme I designed a foil capsule (and later a screw-capsule) with an old fashioned hand-stamped cancellation mark. I positioned the cancellation diagonally to give it an arbitrary look.

Approval at First Sight!

The moment I unveiled my hand crafted bottle simulation both Carl Doumani and Steve Girard were speechless. Not knowing them well at the time I didn’t know how to read this. Were they “good” speechless or “bad” speechless? I was delighted to learn that they both loved it. There were no changes or tweaks, it went forward as presented. In the interests of full disclosure, approval at first sight is an infrequent occurrence.

Unchanged for 27 Years!

Not only did the Benton-Lane design get an instant approval at its initial presentation, it still remains unchanged to this day. It still has instant shelf recognition and stands alone as the only stamp based wine package design (although there have been a few imitators over the years).

Wine brands come and go. Very few, in my experience, last as long as a kid’s old stamp collection. One seldom knows where an idea comes from. In Benton-Lane’s case, it started with my first hobby.

Better than an “A” on your Report Card!

The Benton-Lane label won a Double Gold Award at the San Francisco International Wine Label Completion.  It was the first time a postage stamp had appeared on a wine package design.  Awards are reaffirming and nice, to be sure.  For me, a hand-written card, below, from Benton-Lane’s founder Carl Doumani was the best tribute.  “Thanks for the great ideas,” is as good as it gets in my line of work.

UPDATE: It was brought to my attention that Huneeus Vintners purchased Benton-Lane Winery in 2018.  Huneeus Vintners commissioned a design refresh of the original package.  While I was happy that the update preserved the original design elements I miss the visual link to Inverted Jenny and the feel of vintage postage stamps.