Writing and research for the book started in February 2005. Some labels from my site at www.winelabels.org were used, and many more new labels were obtained. Labels had to be removed from bottles, and sometimes, frustratingly, they got damaged in the process.However, it wasn't all bad since it meant that I had to buy another bottle and drink its contents.
Meanwhile in Philadephia Karen Onorato was considering design issues and editor Jason Rekuluk was pondering suitable titles.
Quirk's books are rightly renowned for the quality of their design, and Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape is no exception. The end flaps help give a good solid feel, and even before opening the covers you can sense this book is something special. The cover design appropriately has wine labels, and the back cover shows -- can you guess? -- the rear of the bottles with back labels describing what is inside with a tasting note telling us 'this year's vintage features glossy textures, inky aromas and a lingering finish'.
Karen Onorato's design places each label on a page of its own with a matching coloured background. Facing it are details of the wine, with its name, producer and origin. (full contact details for each producer are in the book's appendix). At the foot of the page, following my information about the label and wine, are tasting notes and food matches. The two areas of text are in boxes with colour co-ordinated headings.
I particulary like the way Karen has taken elements from the labels and positioned them in the text. For instance, the flying rooster from Flying Rooster Red soars up to the title line, and the hippo from Fat Bastard is sitting reading the tasting notes
There are 112 amusing, interesting and unusual wine labels featured, plus a back label or two. In the appendices is information about buying wines in the book, plus address, phone and website details of all producers named in the book. There is a detailed information on how to remove wine labels should you want to start your own collection, and a glossary of wine terms used in the book and words you may encounter on wine labels. Although it is a fun book, there is serious and accurate wine information that will satisfy readers who know about wine.
After I had written the text, editor Jason Rekuluk went through it making suggestions and deciding which of the labels I had submitted should make it into the book. I have written a book an American English before, and I had set my MS-Word dictionary to American English, so I knew that -- for this book -- there is no u in colour, but there were many other things to consider. All facts were checked, and in some cases, checked again. As the book's design became settled, it was clear that some entries were too long, and so most entries were rewritten. The manuscript was read by everyone working at Quirk, and suggestions were made and acted on.
We had decided on using the names of two of the labels featured in the book as the title. We could have used 'French Kiss The Dogs Bollocks' or 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen Love My Goat', 'Truck Stop Girl Up a Gum Tree', 'Sex Under the Table' or many other combination of weird names from the book, but 'Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape' was our final choice, with the sub-heading 'Odd Wines from Around the World' to explain what the book is about.
I have known Robin Garr through the medium of the web and email for many years, although we have not met so far, and I know he too has a great interest in unusual wines and their labels, so I was delighted when he agreed to write the foreword to the book. Robin is an award winning journalist, food writer, wine judge and well respected wine authority in the United States -- and throughout the world through his website at www.wineloverspage.com.
The actual labels were couriered to Quirk where they were professionally photographed. I wanted metallic labels to look as if they really are gold or silver, something I have been unable to do with my scans for the site, and the photographer succeeded (see pages 89 & 194).
And then Quirk asked for an author photo. My friend John Cross obliged. I knew him when we worked at IBM. He works as a freelance photographer, and brought his tripods, backdrops and cameras to my house one morning. We tried several poses and the one selected for the book shows me sitting with a glass of red wine in front of a large grape vine.
Putting it all together
Finally we had a book we were happy with and proofs were produced. Proofs are large pages with the text fitted into the page layout designs. I then had to carefully read these checking for typographical errors (typos), misspellings, mistakes etc. Then a new proof was produced and I checked it again. The last proof was sent to me in South Africa where I was judging a wine competition. I read the document in my hotel bedroom on the cliffs at Hermanus while whales leapt out of the sea a few hundred metres away from me. It is a fascinating book -- but I had read it before and my eyes kept being drawn to the sea. So if you spot any typos they are probably at the point when a Southern Right (page 193) breached and fell back with a tremendous splash.
The book then went off to be printed in December 2006 and some early copies were sent to Quirk. But my copy got lost in the post so I had to wait until March before I saw the book that I hope you will be buying.
So, you see that although my name is on the front cover -- of which I am very proud -- the book is very much a team effort. I am unstinting in my praise of Jason Rekuluk for his vision that my wine label collection would make an entertaining book and for his support and suggestions during the long editing process. Everyone who has seen the book has remarked on its layout and design, and that is all thanks to Karen Onorato.
And ofcourse, I am indebted to the many unknown designers and artists who produced the wonderful labels that I showcase in the book, and the many people at wineries who helped by sending me unused labels. I am grateful to the winemakers and winery owners who told me about their wines. And I have thanked them by name in the appendices of the book.
Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape
1 May 2006