When I ask Ramón Servalls the managing director of Macià Batle wines who came up with the idea of artistic labels for his wine bottles, he gives me a vague answer about it being ‘born of wine and art, and the sensitivity of human beings’. It’s only much later that someone else prods the director of Macià Batle into revealing that the idea was his.
It says a lot about the man who helped transform a 156-year-old family-run vineyard that sold by the demijohn, into a brand that has become a must-have for many wine connoisseurs – and we’re not just talking about the wine.
Ramón Servalls is no ordinary wine maker. Apart from his obvious love of art, his CV also includes publishing a collection of poetry, a stint with the Balearic government and a former role with Real Mallorca football club.
The artistic labels date from 1998, the year when Macià Batle went from being a wine producer to a brand. A bodega that can be toured by the public was opened and with it an area for exhibiting art – there are also modern sculptures outside.
“I wanted to transmit my love of art and wine,” says Ramón of the labels that have become a collectors’ item. That it was not a commercial decision can be seen by the fact that reproductions of the artworks on the labels can’t be purchased, even though many visitors ask if they can buy them. The closest they can get is by buying a magnum of the Reserva, with which a small poster of the label comes.
Reflecting the poet within him, Ramón says of the labels: “It was about creating a synergy and waking passions. It is the contrast between Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, and the pleasure and sensuality that he represents, with the perfection of the god Apollo.”
Each label represents its own form of perfection – it is unique. Macià Batle commissions them from the artists, with the original works on display at the gallery in the bodega. The first, a youthful face by local artist Joan Benassar, fittingly evokes a classical fresco that would not have been out of place in an ancient Greek temple.
Ramón is reluctant to express a preference for any specific work, saying only that “the first has the most impact” and that “it all depends on your tastes”. He will admit, though, that a 2006 edition featuring the GPS coordinates of the bodega at Santa María del Camí, by Jaume Plensa, proved very popular in the export market and that a special edition by Swiss artist Rolf Knie was a big hit in his homeland. (Switzerland along with Britain, Germany and Scandinavia are the main export markets for a wine that isn’t really sold on mainland Spain.) After a bit more prodding, he acknowledges a soft spot for an edition two years ago that featured the comic strip-style labels.
While initially there was just one artistic label – for the Reserva – there are now two or three a year for the eight or nine types of wine Macià Batle produces.
“We never thought we’d have such renowned artists designing for us,” says Ramón. “But the most important thing is the quality of the wine.”
In this, Mr Servalls can be happy, too. Macià Batle’s red wine recently won the Baco de Oro for the 2011 harvest. The medal the winery received from Spain’s Agriculture Minister is now proudly on display along with the more than 200 other prizes from all over the world, won since 1998 – an incredible success rate.
Ramón Servalls, who is part of the fifth generation of his family to be involved in the business, modestly says that this prestigious award “is a great acknowledgement of Mallorcan wine”.
That Ramón is committed to the art itself is evident from his reluctance to commercialise it despite the impetus it gave the company at its rebirth in 1998. Not only are the designs excellent works of art, they are as good a reason to visit the bodega as a wine tour. For the moment, that remains the only way of seeing the labels in their full splendour.
June 15 – October 14: Monday to Friday 09.00 – 19.00 hrs; closed Saturday.
October 15 – June 14: Monday to Friday 09.00 – 18.30 hrs; Saturday 09.30 – 13.00 hrs.