Sharon Sevrens, owner of Amanti Vino, the Montclair boutique of fine wine, beer, spirits and cheese, will release a private label wine of her own to celebrate the shop’s 10th anniversary this October. Partnering with the Montclair Art Museum, she is holding a competition for artists (of all ages) to design the wine’s label.
The wine will be called Cuvée Rufus, for Sevrens’s beloved yellow Lab, the store’s mascot.
“Rufus is my first child,” says Sevrens, who also has two young sons. “Literally since I opened the store, Rufus has been with me. I hated the idea of leaving my then-puppy at home. He has such a following that people come in solely to say hi to Rufus. On Saturdays, parents come in with their kids and Rufus becomes the de facto babysitter. He’s a local celebrity and the face of the store.”
So it is appropriate that the label competition is open to artists of all ages. Winners will be chosen—by professionals from the art museum—in four age categories: 5-8, 9-12, 13-18 and 19+.
The design can be in any medium, but it must fit the 4.5-inch square label and must contain the name and/or image of Rufus. Photos of Rufus are available at amantivino.com. The deadline for submission is Tuesday March 31st at 8 pm. Designs can be mailed—or brought in person—to the store or the museum.
A winner will be announced in each of the four categories. And each 12-bottle case of Cuvée Rufus will contain three bottles of each label.
“In addition to the glory of getting your name and your image on hundreds of wine bottles, we also will have age-appropriate prizes,” Sevrens says.
The best submissions will be included in an exhibit at the museum in the fall, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary as Amanti Vino celebrates its 10th. Amanti Vino will hold a release party for the wine in October.
Sevrens says she has not yet decided if Cuvée Rufus will be white or red. She may release one of each.
Wait. How is it possible to have a wine ready for release in October, if in March the ostensible winemaker has not even decided what color the wine should be?
The answer lies in the meaning of the term “private label.”
When discussing Cuvée Rufus, Sevrens at first talks about choosing “juice,” but what she will be choosing is, in fact, already wine, being stored in stainless steel tanks.
“A lot of my distributors make private labels from juice they have already turned into wine,” she said. “These aren’t barrel-aged selections.”
The term private label needs explaining. Our sense of it, after talking with Sevrens, is that a lot more wine grapes are harvested each season than you would think. Tons more grapes are harvested around the world than the tons that wineries small and large grow to make the wines that will carry their own, often prestigious, labels. Huge companies need tons of grapes for jug wines, for nice but not elite table wines, and on and on.
These grapes don’t go to waste. The juice is pressed, stored, maybe sold to companies that supply home winemakers, maybe turned into wine and stored. There is a lot of juice out there.
According to Sevrens, wine distributors will make large quantities of wine from some of this, as we’ll call it, excess capacity juice. A lot of it is stored in stainless steel tanks. It is then available to more or less any business or entity that would like to sell wine under a name and label of its own—a private label, as it’s called.
It’s a completely honorable and widespread practice.
So what Sevrens is now doing is tasting a large number of these already-made, capably-made, young wines, virtually all 2014 vintages. She is tasting wines from several different countries and continents. One or more of these wines will become Cuvée Rufus.
“One of my sources is in South America,” she said, “so it could be a 2015 vintage, which would be kind of cool, actually.
“If I can negotiate the minimum quantity down enough, I can do a white and a red, or more than one of each,” she explained. “If the minimum quantity I have to buy is relatively high, then I would just do one white or one red.”
She anticipates bottling a minimum of 250 cases, perhaps as many as 500. Among the wines she is considering are Italian sangiovese and pinot grigio, Chilean sauvignon blanc, California pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.
“There are a lot of options,” she says.
Does she feel any desire, or pressure, to make Cuvée Rufus a New Jersey wine?
“I would consider a New Jersey wine if I felt it was the best at a given price point or in a given varietal,” she responded. “But I don’t think it has to be from New Jersey. I’m more interested in making sure it’s a really high-quality wine and comes in as a terrific value, affordable for everyone.”
“Value priced means I can retail it for under $15 a bottle. If I can retail it for under $10 a bottle, I will, but it will certainly be under $15.”
A percentage of proceeds from sale of Cuvée Rufus will go to the museum and to Intensive Therapeutics, Inc., a Scotch Plains non-profit specializing in occupational therapy for special needs children. Her younger son, Kyle, who was born roughly eight weeks premature, has overcome many severe early health problems. Intensive Therapeutics has helped him with his fine motor skills. He turns 9 in May.
When Kyle was born, doctors told Sevrens and her husband, Chris, “There’s a 95 percent chance he will never walk and will never talk,” she says.
Today he does Tae Kwon Do three times a week, runs a mile (with a limp, but finishes) and has a lot to say.
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