* This column was originally published in Saturday’s on-line edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Once you’ve met him, Ronnie Sanders is one of those people you won’t forget. The animated owner behind the bustling wine import company Vine Street Imports has brought some of the most interesting and conversation-starting Australian wine labels to the U.S. Some of Sanders’ eye-popping labels include Cycle Buff Beauty, Barrel Monkeys and The Mistress.
Q: You have some fantastically insane visual designs on the labels in your portfolio. Where do these producers and/or yourself derive these creative influences?
SANDERS: I’ve always been fascinated with record albums, and when I was kid I bought records according to the album cover. Of course, there were mistakes (Meatloaf’s “Bat out of Hell” comes to mind), and for me I really equate what I loved as a kid with albums to wine label art. It’s hard to put a finger on it but I’ll see an artist that I really like or a concept maybe in a magazine or the cover of a book, and that just gets the creative juices flowing. Considering that I have absolutely no artistic ability at all, I’ve aligned myself with people who are super-creative and let them do their thing.
Q: Do you have any new endeavors on the horizon that you’d like to share with us?
SANDERS: We are having an event in Philadelphia that I am pretty excited about called “Defend Australia,” which is essentially a master class. The vast majority of our distributors nationwide are coming in, including your very own Rich Dixon from Knoxville Beverage as well as many top retailers and sommeliers from around the country. Although we feel the pull again on our category, we wanted to give it a push, as well as feature many of our new wines from wineries that are brand new to the market.
Q: What’s your opinion on the changing of the guard at Wine Advocate now that founder and owner Robert Parker has sold it?
SANDERS: Lisa Perroti-Brown is an incredibly gifted person and I think she’ll do a great job. So far I think her Aussie reviews have been on point. I’m curious to see who will review Italy now that Antonio Galloni is no longer doing the Italian reviews for the Advocate.
Q: Do you think the ongoing debate about the 100-point wine rating system in America (where one or a handful of people crown a wine as king) will lead to any real change in the near future?
SANDERS: I never had a problem with the system as it stands. Nowadays, I think that the average wine-drinker seems to be more comfortable with their palates, but I still have friends who will only buy on press. Hopefully, that will eventually change.
The second half of this interview will be posted on Friday.