Grogger Grand Tour: Mash

Having spent five ‘summer’ months in Sydney, sheltering from torrential rain and tropical thunder, it was novel to see an Australian city in the sunshine. Adelaide was bustling with the annual festival – much like the Edinburgh Fringe, but with better-looking locals.

Since Grogger’s inception, Mash studio has been on our radar, providing us with a constant stream of original and eclectic wine labels. It’s taken considerably effort not to just reblog everything on their website and retire. So they were top of our ‘cellar door’ list to visit.

Situated on the corner of North and East terrace (Adelaide, Canberra, Milton Keynes, all towns built on grid systems and all with a reputation for tedium; In Adelaide’s case, undeserved). We met with Dom Roberts, joint creative director, and headed out for some lunch in the sunshine. Mash was founded in 2002 by Dom and James Brown, who joined creatives forces when they discovered that they had both been asked to pitch for Evo cosmetics, a client they have forged a close relationship over the years since. At Dom’s graduate exhibition, he was approached by Two Hand’s to create their logo and identity. The US distributor of the wine loved the Two Hand’s branding and began to offer extra briefs, to the point where wine work formed three-quarters of their portfolio. From small beginnings, working from Dom’s house and transporting the iMac around in his car boot, Mash is now a team of 8 people, working across the spectrum of art, design, music and wine, although they have ‘no grand scheme of world domination’.

On our way back to the studio, after our delicious doorstop wedges of frittata, Dom took us to visit his friend and Best Man Gus Buchanan at East End Cellars, quite possibly the greatest wine shop we have ever encountered south of the equator. Open cases of natural wines sat stacked across the floor, and shelves upon shelves of eclectic, eccentric and exclusive wines stretched into the distance. Gus, a man with unnerving conviction when talking about wine, was kind enough to take the time to show and describe some of his favourite wines, both to drink and to look at; much of Mash’s work could be seen dotted around the shop.

Inspired and mouth-a-watering, we returned to the Mash studio. Mash’s work is characterized by an eclectic, found aesthetic; bits of Victoriana, vintage type, etchings, combined to form a unique collage, like the V&A-meets-Sherlock Holmes, and their studio space reflects this. Their studio is a homely, high-ceiling apartment, wooden-floored and eclectically decorated – Mexican Day-of-the-Dead skulls and stuffed animals sit next to AGDA annuals and iMacs. In the kitchen, a cutting mat and scalpel sits on the dining table next to the salt and pepper, surrounded by a library of wine bottles.

In the kitchen we tried our first Mash-designed wine. Having earlier discussed the constraints that working with a large, global brand can have, it an obvious choice to sample the Jacob’s Creek moscato. The label is simple, geometric, with a retro repeating pattern; a bold move compared to the conservative Jacob’s Creek labels, but understated by Mash’s standard.

Slightly sparkling and a bright, light colour the wine looked pleasant enough, but one sniff of the cloying perfume was enough to put most of us off. The flavour was sweet lychees and passionfruit, but certainly more towards that confectioner’s kitchen than the garden. One sip was pleasant enough, however any more and a pint of Opal Fruits would have been less sickly; certainly a wine aimed at teenage kicks and Sex and the City boxsets. Glasses were emptied into the sink and we moved on to the next wine, and into Mash’s meeting room.

The room, down a small flight of stairs, holds a long table and a rococo sideboard with a full row of Mash-designed bottles, with many more in the cabinets below. All of our favourites were there, and Dom was kind enough to show us some of the others we hadn’t come across before, including the chain-mail hooded Votum wine.

One of Mash’s closest collaborators is ‘rogue-vintner’ Justin Lane (formerly of the Red Head’s studio) who set us his own label, Alpha Box and Dice, in 2005. The aim of ABD is produce a different wine each year, using different grapes and in a different style, with each wine crafted around a letter of the alphabet. The next wine we sampled was Alpha Box and Dice’s letter ‘M for Mistress’ wine, described as

Late again with a guilty look and the smell of sweet fruit lingering all around you. Whose purple kisses are smeared all over you?

Ripe, juicy and bursting with a vigorous desire to be seen and heard, the wine was a young blend of Touriga Nacional (40%), Tinta Negra Molle (40%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20%). Lacking in noticeable tannin, the wine was reminiscent of an Italian ‘vino novello’ made to be slurped with reckless abandon, young and seductive, but perhaps not one for a serious relationship.

Talking about how Mash approach designing a wine label, Dom talked about a ‘disruptive approach’ to packaging. ‘It has to create interest and look great, not be just another label. It’s natural for us to be illustrative, to create standout.’ It’s evident that Mash strive to produce something that hasn’t been done before, to fill those gaps in the market where there isn’t a photo of Elvis in a swimming pool or flocked-textured wordsearch. ‘We want to get away from tradition and to bring romance back’ says Dom. 

Looking at Mash’s wine portfolio, you can see that their ideas are beautifully crafted as well as intriguing and unusual. The eclectic, illustrative surroundings of the studio are reflected in their work. Asked about their eclectic aesthetic, Dom described their bottles to be appear as ‘found treasure’ amongst the bland ranks of conventional wine packaging. Having explored the vintage-collage illustration aesthetic in much of their work, Dom stated that Mash are ‘ready to move’ on, a desire exemplified by their modernist work for the Adelaide Festival that could be seen all across town. 

Leaving the studio and arriving into the afternoon sunshine, purple-lipped and slightly woozy, we felt lucky and grateful to have been allowed to explore Mash’s cave of treasure.