About The Project

Who was Maynard Amerine?

Maynard Amerine is generally considered to be the driving force behind the post-Prohibition wine industry in California.

“If you did what he told you,” Robert Mondavi, founder of the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, Calif., said of Amerine to The New York Times in 1998, “You couldn’t help but make outstanding wine. He was my mentor, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for him.”

In 1935, Amerine was hired by the fledgling University of California, Davis’ newly formed Department of Viticulture and Enology to help establish a solid technical foundation for the California wine industry. Amerine wasn’t just interested in training students. He was driven to rectify the damage wrought by Prohibition to the wine industry in California.

As he traveled California and the world, educating and counseling winemakers on how to improve the quality of their wines, he collected over 5,000 wine labels.

A Window into the History of Wine

These labels tell the story of the growing wine industry during a pivotal time. Spanning nearly one hundred years, from the late 1800s to the 1950s, the majority of the labels are from the 1930s and ’40s.

Some were annotated, with Amerine often giving the wine a letter grade, or specifying when, where and with whom the bottle might have been drunk. His handwritten notations appear alongside many of the labels on this site.

In an era before computers, Amerine pasted the labels into black spiral-bound notebooks, organized by region (usually country), divided into red or white, and in some cases further divided into sub-regions or ‘appellations.’

Many of the labels in Amerine’s collection are from bottles he enjoyed at San Francisco’s Bohemian Club, and others were individual gifts, sometimes from private cellars. The collection is representative of the wines he preferred and had access to, and thus is heavy in California wines as well as an Amerine favorite — French wines.

The Amerine wine labels are but one representation of the unique and comprehensive materials held in the wine collection at the UC Davis Library, considered by many to be the greatest wine library in the world.

About the Project

Until now, the only way to search Amerine’s collection of historic wine labels was to flip through the hundreds of spiral-bound notebooks housed in Special Collections at the UC Davis Library.

By transcribing these labels and creating a searchable database, you’re helping us to enable wine lovers and historians to walk in Amerine’s shoes as he pioneered a path through mid-20th century winemaking. When complete, scholars will be able to search by vintage, varietal, region, or even the type of image on a label. For researchers around the world — historians, sommeliers, oenologists, even novelists looking for period details — this online resource will fill a gap in their understanding of wine history.

However, before we can create that searchable database, we need to transcribe the labels, and there are too many variations in terminology and design to accomplish this by machine. Using the open source Scribe Framework built by NYPL Labs and Zooniverse, we’ve created a tool that enables you to help decipher what’s on the label. Ready to help? Get started now.

We also hope to gather and share stories about these wine labels — the wineries, the wines, the art on the labels, the leaders in the industry of the time – as the site continues to grow. Contact us at labelthis@ucdavis.edu to share your story.

What’s Next?

Once all the text on the labels has been transcribed, visitors to the site will be able to search through the collection using keywords, like ‘Pinot’.

However, our system won’t yet know that ‘Pinot’ goes with ‘Noir,’ or that there’s a relationship between Pinot Noirs and, say, Burgundies. In order to make our system smarter, and more functional to scholars and researchers — we need to organize the data our crowdsourcers have generated. During this phase of the project, we’ll be calling upon subject specialists to help us. If you know that Burgundy is a Pinot Noir, and you’d like to volunteer your expertise, send us an email at labelthis@ucdavis.edu.

After we’ve created that structured data, there are additional things we hope to do with the site for example, we’d like to geocode all the vineyard and wine making locations so they can be visualized on a map). And that’s just the start. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can help support this and other digital wine initiatives, please contact Jean Korinke, Director of Development, at jfkorinke@ucdavis.edu.

Questions? Comments?

If you have questions about the project or how to use this site, you can reach us at labelthis@ucdavis.edu.

To learn more about opportunities to support this project or the UC Davis Library’s world-class wine archives, contact Jean Korinke, Director of Development, at jfkorinke@ucdavis.edu or (530) 752-2422.

For media inquiries, please contact Jessica Nusbaum, at jlnusbaum@ucdavis.edu or (530) 752-4145.

The Team

Peter Brantley – Director of Online Strategy, UC Davis Libraries
Amy Azzarito — Product Manager
Neil Weingarten – Project Manager
Pablo Defendini – UX Designer
Liza Daly — Developer
Axel Borg — Project Curator and Subject Specialist

Special thanks to the Social Apps Lab at CITRIS.