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Ala. ban of wine with nude label is marketing boon

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Alabama's ban on a wine that features a nude nymph on the label became a business opportunity for a California vintner who is preparing a marketing campaign to capitalize on being "Banned in Bama."

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The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board recently told stores and restaurants to quit serving Cycles Gladiator wine because of the label. Board attorney Bob Martin said the stylized, art-nouveau rendition of a nude female with a flying bicycle violated Alabama rules against displaying "a person posed in an immoral or sensuous manner."

Bill Leigon, president of Hahn Family Wines in Soledad, Calif., said Thursday that visits to the company's Web site have increased tenfold since news of the ban broke late last week, and callers from across the country have been asking where they can buy the wine.

Because of the interest, he's developing store displays that say "Banned in Bama" and "Taste What They Can't Have in Alabama."

Hahn said he will never miss the 500 cases sold annually in Alabama. "There is going to be a significant increase in our sales," he predicted.

Rosanna Guardagno, a social psychologist at the University of Alabama, said a ban often increases people's interest in a product.

"The ABC Board, without realizing it, is going to boost their sales," she said.

The wine's label is copied from an 1895 French advertising poster for Cycles Gladiator bicycles. It shows a side view of a full-bodied nymph flying alongside a winged bicycle.

Martin said the ABC Board rejected the label last year, which meant the product wasn't supposed to be sold in Alabama. A citizen recently sent a bottle to the board to show it was still being sold in the state, prompting the letter to restaurants and stores to stop sales, he said.

Hahn's president said he was unaware of the ABC Board's rejection until the letter was sent to retailers. He said the poster is a classic piece of art, with originals selling for as much as $50,000.

Although nude art bothers the alcohol board, it's not a problem for some other branches of Alabama government.

The Alabama Tourism Department distributes a brochure with a cover featuring Hiram Powers' 19th century nude statue, The Greek Slave, which is on display at the Westervelt Warner Museum of American Art in Tuscaloosa. It is available in museums statewide, interstate highway welcome centers and visitors' bureaus statewide.

"We haven't had any concerns about it," Tourism Director Lee Sentell said.

And Alabama's Capitol has historic paintings on display, including two that show several topless female Indians.

Guardagno, who studies social influences, said people allow more freedom of expression in art than in advertising.

"With art, you have to be really explicit with how a person's body is displayed before people are offended," she said.

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