Luxury goods, such as works of art, wine, real estate or exotic cars not only serve as visible evidence of someone’s high income or prestige. Such goods are often the area of interest of collectors. Combining various manifestations of luxury is quite a frequent phenomenon. Alcoholic beverage producers long ago acknowledged multiple benefits of engaging in cooperation with artists, such as increasing the prestige, being associated with famous names and increasing the value of limited editions of their products. These are the reasons why the producers of Absolut vodka have cooperated with nearly 830 artists so far, including Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, as well as with fashion designers, such as Gianni Versace, Jean-Paul Gaultier and David Cameron. Wine producers follow the same pattern and are eager to have artists take care of the visual side of their projects. A famous example of such cooperation is Château Mouton Rothschild. The list of distinguished artists of the 20th and 21st century cooperating with this famous winery is very long and includes Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.
This winery is not the only one with an added artistic value. The Ahr region boasts another famous wine brand, namely Edition Jerke. This wine comes from Marienthal Trotzenberg classified by VDP Prädikatsweingüter as a high growth rate region. The southwest-facing hillside is optimally exposed to sunlight and, at the same time, it is one of the steepest terrains out of the entire area covered by the vineyard. Wine ferments in open containers for about 10 months and is then transferred to wooden barrels (oak – moderately dry). The impressive vineyard with the surface area of nearly 2 hectares is owned by Werner Jerke – an ophthalmologist, collector, enthusiast and a renowned promoter of Polish art in Germany. The manager of his wine estate is Ludwig Kreuzberg, one of the most distinguished wine producers in Germany, who runs the process of wine growing based on the established strict rules. Since 1994 the winery has been placing first in an annual ranking of a hundred best German wines. It is also the member of VDP Prädikatsweingüter, which is the world’s oldest association of wineries. The winery was awarded the Feinschmecker Wine-Award in the “best collection” category.
The collection of artworks owned by Werner Jerke includes pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries. Among them are magnificent works by Katarzyna Kobro, Henryk Stażewski, Edward Krasiński, Alina Szapocznikow, Maria Jarema, Andrzej Wróblewski, Ryszard Grzyb and some young artists, such as Wilhelm Sasnal. Each of these pieces could easily become a part of a collection of a renowned museum or gallery.
An enormous passion for art led Werner Jerke in another direction a few years ago. He created a private museum in Recklinghausen which boasts the biggest collection of works by Polish artists in Germany. There we can see one of the two plaster sculptures by Katarzyna Kobro, a doyenne of avant-garde art, which are currently owned by private individuals (the rest of her works is held by museums in Poland and other parts of the world). Visitors to Recklinghausen museum will also see the prototype of a chair of Władysław Strzemiński, the artist whose life became an inspiration of Andrzej Wajda to shoot a film shortly before the director died himself. Wojciech Fangor, who is another 20th century art classic, right before he died designed a stained-glass window for Werner Jerke. It is now placed in the gable of the museum building and lightens up the stone facade. It is worth mentioning that works by Wojciech Fangor are among the most expensive pieces created by late Polish artists. Last year two price records were broken when his works were purchased for PLN 7,011,000 at an auction at Polswiss Art and for PLN 4,720,000 at DESA Unicum.
Werner Jerke combines this passion for art with his love for wine. For some time every year he has been inviting Polish artists whose works he already owns and asks them to design unique labels for wine bottles (Werner Jerke produces the Späteburgunder red wine and Blanc de Noir wine). So far, the following artists contributed with their label designs: Sławomir Elsner, Zbigniew Rogalski, Marcin Maciejowski, Ryszard Grzyb, Ryszard Woźniak, Marek Sobczyk, Rafał Bujnowski, Radek Szlaga. There is one common element in each of these labels, i.e. the name, which becomes the basis for every design. Nevertheless, artists are totally free in their creative efforts. Werner Jerke does not impose any themes and elements which need to be incorporated in the designs. It needs to be emphasized that more often than not the wine label designs are visibly connected with previous works of a given artist. What clearly shows in these wine label designs is the way of thinking of their creators and references to the series of other pieces they worked on at roughly the same time. This is why the labels should neither be treated as an ordinary order nor as pieces of functional art. They are real works of art, however the materials used and the dimensions are suitable for taking into account the applicable technical limitations, for example the shape of a wine bottle or the size of a label itself. The invited artists have A4 format at their disposal. What they create on a piece of this size is printed later on. Besides the bottles which are widely distributed, an additional aspect which sets Werner Jerke’s project apart is the limited edition of wines in double magnum bottles with original works attached as labels. Each invited artist prepares six works and affixes his handwritten signature on each of them. These pieces are truly unique.
Collectible wines can be bought at wine trade fairs or during wine auctions. In the case of wines from the unique, limited edition created as part of Werner Jerke’s project, one can see them also at the auctions where works of art are sold. Nobody should be surprised about that. The designs by Rafał Bujnowski are like a beautiful nocturne – minimalist and drawn using unrestricted strokes of a brush. They complement the series of night pictures featuring a lonely figure standing near the illuminated, glittering Graboszyce lake by moonlight. On the wine labels we can see dark rooms with a silhouette of a human.
When it comes to label designs by Marcin Maciejowski, one of the most prominent painters of the post-1989 era, we can see genre painting presenting a figurative scene painted in a characteristic manner – simplified, with subtle switches in tone and resembling a comic book. This style is the essence of the artist’s activities which for many years have been focused on an intensive dialogue with pop culture. The design by Ryszard Grzyb, the member of Gruppa (a group of artists established in the 1980s, who are considered precursors of ideas taken over by the artists listed above who formed the Ładnie group), combines jokes, irony and playfulness with very dynamic composition, colours and coded messages about art and the reality which surrounds us. Such expressive combination is typical for this artist. It is also worth taking a closer look at the work by Zbigniew Rogalski who prepared an abstract, red and white, geometrical composition which resembles red blood cells, drops of wine or, taking the micro scale into account, tannins, which are so crucial for wine quality. These are afterimages and reflections, i.e. impermanent phenomena which the artist reflected using graphics.
It is surprising that such a small and seemingly insignificant thing as a wine label can present history and an overview of some tendencies in art. Bodily sensations and spiritual experiences merge while borders between the two different worlds cease to exist. What we hold in our hands is one unique piece of art.