The Zine-Making Sommeliers
June Rodil and Emily Blackman illustrate an approachable wine list at June's All Day
“A woman came up to me at a party not too long ago and said, ‘Oh, you wrote a wine book!’ And I was like, ‘No, I didn’t!’” recounts sommelier Emily Blackman, chuckling at the idea. What the woman was referring to is actually the wine list at June’s All Day, and she can probably be forgiven for mistaking it for a book. After all, it’s not every day the server at a restaurant hands you a wine list in the form of a zine, one that has a colorful centerfold illustration featuring, for instance, a naked couple in the middle of a jungle embracing wines au naturel.
To Blackman, who started making zines as an art school student about 14 years ago, the form is obvious, and she likes the fact that, unlike a book, it’s not precious. But that’s not to say it’s thrown together in haste. Blackman and Master Sommelier June Rodil put a fair amount of work into making a new volume each month, a process that involves coming up with a theme, selecting and ordering wines, writing interesting tidbits, illustrating, drawing, cutting, pasting, and finally, Xeroxing a bunch of copies and stapling them together.
When we dropped by their offices on a Friday afternoon in early August, Blackman and Rodil were on the last step, stapling together Zine Vol. VIII, featuring island wines with a centerfold illustration of a woman in an orange bikini floating in the ocean. “It’s really hot and people want to be on vacation, so it’s perfect for this time of year,” Rodil explains of their theme. “It’s also a great way to get people to try wines with indigenous grapes that they might not be able to pronounce. People aren’t like, ‘Oh look, it’s Hatzidakis, Santorini, I’ll have a bottle of that one,’ but when people associate an esoteric wine with going on vacation to a beautiful island, they’re more inclined to try it.”
For Rodil, the most time-consuming part of the process is choosing the wines, compiling them into lists, and making sure they come in on time. “Getting special wines flown in and delivered can be difficult, and I’ll often have to tell Emily that we need to change out a wine—and of course she’ll have already made this wonderful illustration around it.” The illustrations typically work themselves out, but as Rodil tries to secure a particular vintage, which goes from being available, to being unavailable, to being available again at the last minute, there winds up being a lot of literal cutting and pasting for Blackman.
But they say their process has improved with each new volume, and they’ve certainly come a long way since their first one, which was entirely handwritten. “It was really lo-fi and awesome,” Rodil says, flipping through it. “The problem is, I have grandma handwriting that is barely legible, and people were like, ‘What is that?’ So we decided, okay, we’re going to have to type and print out the wine names to make them more legible, but I still write little notes in each volume that people can choose to read or not read.”
With their notes and accompanying illustrations, which range from a jukebox full of Dolly Parton songs to a primer on how rosé is made or what champagne dosage levels mean, Rodil and Blackman aim to educate and entertain. It’s also evident that they’re having a lot of fun themselves, sometimes working into the early morning hours and laughing hysterically over their clever 3 a.m. ideas.
Although a zine might not immediately seem like the most appropriate home for the high quality wines that Rodil sources, Blackman says the form makes sense. “Like June’s, the zines are super approachable, but have a lot of interior quality,” she explains. “It’s just pages that we’ve Xeroxed on a machine, but the wines we have in here are so good. I feel like June’s is the same way; we’re right in the middle of South Congress, you can go buy cowboy boots, yet you can also come in here and have amazing burgundy or rad champagne.”
“The zines also give the restaurant vibrancy,” adds Rodil, who also happens to do the coloring. “I want June’s to have this a casual, neighborhood feel to it, but without missing the quality.”
Blackman and Rodil share their arsenal of tools
1. Bottles of Wine
“The wines on my desk are some of the ones that we need to taste to see if they’re going to work out.” – Rodil
2. Le Pen Pens
“I have every color of Le Pen pens because I love them. They’re my favorite pens to write with. Nobody else in the office buys them, so if I see one around here, I know somebody stole it from me. We use the red one to cross out the wines in the zine when we run out.” – Rodil
3. Illustration from Zine Vol. 1
“This illustration is from Zine Vol. 1. We couldn’t figure out how to label our Cabernet list, and it was a 3 a.m. idea to put Henry the VIII in a cab and call it King Cabs. I laughed for forever. I was delirious. So we kept it.” – Rodil4. Artwork by Kelti Smith
“Our creative director’s wife, Kelti Smith, made this for a tasting we did at Josephine House. It’s actually of me and all of my Master Sommelier friends in Texas. So that’s me playing badminton… They’re my family, my friends.” – Rodil
5. Prismacolor Pencils
“We use these old-school Prismacolor pencils for coloring—old school Prismacolor and Le Pen pens.” – Rodil
6. Emily’s Art Box
“This is my art box from college. It’s coming up on 14 years. It has my ink nibs, my micron pens, and my favorite tool—my non-photo-reproducing blue pencils. I use these pencils to do all my initial sketches. They’re my favorite thing.” – Blackman7. Bristol Paper
“It’s what I draw on.” – Blackman
“It’s pretty rad. The needle displaces wine with argon gas. I love it for training.” – Rodil
9. Long-reach Stapler
“Our long-reach stapler is probably the most important thing on the planet. It’s a very important tool. It’s the best. I love this thing. The end of our process involves folding and stapling.” – Blackman
10. Noble Rot Magazine
“This is awesome. It’s my favorite publication. It’s British and it comes out every four months. It’s very current, but not too hip. I also really love matte periodicals in the wine world. Whenever it does come out I get really excited.” – Rodil11. John Porcellino’s King-Cat Comics
“Shout out to my favorite zine artist, John Porcellino, who makes King-Cat Comics. I always joke, having gone to art school, I’m the worst artist, I mean my people are a step above stick people–but here’s an artist who has a really simple style of drawing. He still puts out a quarterly that he prints out and you can subscribe and he’ll mail it to you. He’s my inspiration.” – Blackman
Read more from the Style Issue | September 2017