This article and the Design Behind the Vine series are brought to you by Prophecy Wines.
More than two millennia ago, perhaps amid the dusty pyramids and fixed-stare sphinxes of ancient Egypt, something exceedingly familiar to present-day oenophiles was born: the modern wine label. And while that may seem like a minor innovation for an exceedingly inventive culture, responsible for marvels ranging from water dams to bowling, the wine label certainly deserves a spot among the world’s greatest man-made creations. An enduring standby of the wine world, it’s a thing both practical and, in the right hands, exceedingly beautiful.
The wine label’s dual role — to inform and inspire — is perhaps no better illustrated than on bottles from Prophecy Wines. The captivating portfolio spans vintages from some of the world’s best vineyards, including wine regions in New Zealand, France, Italy, and the United States. But though far flung in origin, the wines are beautiful inside and out and all are united in a singular ability to inspire the drinker through the exceptional wine. The intricate and vibrant artwork featured on the labels, a collaboration with Hong Kong-born illustrator Victo Ngai, plays no small role in this.
“It is very interesting how this project started,” Ngai said. When she’s not creating illustrations for publications like The New York Times and The New Yorker, Ngai often produces packaging and advertisements for companies like Apple and General Electric. The project for Prophecy, however, was different.
“It was really more like a collaboration rather than a commission, in a way,” she explained. “It wasn’t like, ‘O.K., we have this whole image and we want you to create a branding for us,’ but more like, ‘O.K., we have this really cool idea.”
The grand concept: tarot cards. Likely invented in late-14th or early 15th-century Italy, tarot has long been a source of fascination and discovery for truth seekers. Beginning in the 1700s, some players began to believe that tarot symbols hinted at secret knowledge belonging to the ancient Egyptian god Thoth.
Whether or not you believe in their power, there’s no question that tarot cards and their intricate, symbol-filled artwork continue to have an inspirational pull on believers and non-believers alike. It’s through this pull that Prophecy Wines hopes to inspire individuals with their designs, inviting wine lovers to discover their own destiny through the beautiful pieces of artwork.
“Wine has been around for a long time, and it’s very layered,” Ngai explained of the connection between Prophecy Wines and tarot. “Just like a tarot card, if you get [different] pairings, you get a different meaning to it,” she said. When creating each label, “you have to be true to the meaning of the tarot card. [They have] a lot of icons, a lot of symbols, but they all mean something. They’re not just wallpaper.”
The brand’s six wines are strategically sourced from around the world, with the labels bringing to life the wine’s style.
The Sauvignon Blanc, a delicate showcase of New Zealand’s famous Marlborough region, has an aroma of grapefruit, lychee, and lime zest, with fruity notes of mandarin orange and green apple. On the label, Ngai chose to feature the inspirational High Priestess adorned with flowing green robes and surrounded by a lush tree of fruits, representing the fruit-forward flavors in the wine. “She’s the guardian of unconsciousness, and I thought that’s such a cool concept,” Ngai said.
The Prophecy Rosé, on the other hand, places a spotlight on grapes from the south of France. Light but bright on the tongue, the vintage is layered with notes of fresh strawberry, raspberry, and white peach. The label features The Goddess of Fortune, a beautiful woman with flowing auburn hair and flowers in her hand, her bare feet walking the wheel of time. She represents how one must always take an active role in one’s own life because no matter how the wheel turns you want to stay upright.
Meanwhile, the delightful Pinot Noir, made with California grapes, packs a bouquet of toasted oak and ripe raspberry. A round mouthfeel gives way to plush, luscious notes of red cherry, strawberry, and brown spice. On the bottle, Ngai paired it with an image of The Traveler. The figure has an intense curiosity about the world, she said. “In the image, you see that he’s walking by a cliff, but he’s still very jolly, very bouncy. Not too worried about the consequences.”
Then there’s the Pinot Grigio, a refreshing vintage of grapes from Italy’s high-altitude delle Venezie region. With light notes of citrus and tropical fruit, sips are crisp with a refined minerality and delicate floral aroma. The label showcases The Star, which bears a star-lit beauty with streaming water for hair, which cascades down her back. “She brings the universal blessings,” Ngai said of the meaning.
There’s also a Cabernet Sauvignon, made with California grapes from premier appellations. Smooth and approachable, its layers of blackberry, plum, and raspberry yield to oaky notes of graham cracker. The label represents The Emperor, holding court from a throne of mountain peaks, inspiring others to make the most of each day.
And finally, Prophecy’s Red Blend marries fruit from two renowned growing regions, Washington and California. Layers of red fruit are zinged up with scents of spice and vanilla, while the finish is long and silky. The label shows The Lovers, locked in a passionate embrace. “Rather than just displaying two people side-by-side, in this one you see that they are kind of intertwined in a way,” Ngai said. “And if you look closely, you’ll see that they are actually growing from the same tree.”
Ngai said the images are especially meaningful to her because drinkers tend to discover their own meaning in the intricate symbols of the labels. Across the country, wine lovers have been collecting, sharing, and even seeing the beautiful wine come to life through the brand’s new augmented reality mobile application. One woman even had the image on the Prophecy Pinot Grigio’s label tattooed on her bicep, which just goes to show: Wine may vanish once you drink it, but the impression a glass gives can be forever.
“I think wine bottles are just beautiful objects,” Ngai said. “I think being able to be part of a beautiful object and a very long tradition like that is very cool.”