October 2015 Issue of Wines & Vines

Building Value with Wine Packaging

Meiomi founder and top designers discuss innovative packaging with an impact

by Jane Firstenfeld
Designer Panel
Andrew Rice, creative director of Trinchero Family Estates (at podium), moderates a panel of designers including Tony Auston, Jim Moon and Jeff Hester.

After sealing the deal to sell his Meiomi brand to Constellation Wines for $315 million, Joe Wagner became the wine industry’s newest “it boy.” The fifth-generation Napa Valley winemaker opened the second annual Wines & Vines Packaging Conference in Napa on Aug. 19, giving the keynote address.


  • The founder of the fast-growing Meiomi wine brand, Joe Wagner, was the keynote speaker at the second annual Wines & Vines Packaging Conference.
  • Wagner detailed design decisions that have helped his family’s brands—and now his own brands—to grow, including Belle Glos, Silver, Meiomi and Beran.
  • A panel of wine package designers showed and described advances in packaging materials that have allowed design innovations.

The 33-year-old Wagner described his family’s single-vineyard Pinot Noir label Belle Glos as the leading luxury Pinot Noir in the United States, thanks in part to a distinctive, instantly recognizable package. Wagner recounted the evolution of the Belle Glos package for conference attendees. What started as a simple, red wax seal has grown to envelop the top half of Belle Glos’ bottle in scarlet wax. “I think we are the largest consumer of wax in the wine industry,” he told the audience.

Applying wax dips is normally an arduous task performed by hand, but Wagner commissioned an Italian manufacturer to develop an automated system with the goals of safety and consistency. He passed around samples of a proprietary tear tab, which simplifies removing the cork without disrupting the visual flow of wax.

Along with the “Sideways” effect that helped propel Pinot Noir sales starting in 2004, he believes the package helped build recognition of the Belle Glos brand. The package now has a trade-dress trademark on its wax dipping, and a patent is pending, Wagner said. “People are always trying to steal a good idea.”

Wagner started his own company in 2014, Copper Cane Wine & Provisions, and remains involved in The Wagner Family of Wine as well. He enumerated what he looks for in a wine package:

Exclusivity: Make it something special. Belle Glos bottles are not quite the traditional Burgundy shape.

Individuality: Make the package one of a kind.

Tradition: Wine buyers are accustomed to standard shapes. Get too far off the standard, and people lose interest.

Tell a story: Package for your purpose. Are you selling on- or off-premise? This can make a big difference in sales.


    A crowd of 370 people attended the second annual Wines & Vines Packaging Conference in Napa on Aug. 19 to gain insights about new wine packaging innovations and connect with suppliers.

    In addition to a keynote talk by Napa vintner Joseph Wagner and a panel discussion by some of the industry’s top package designers, the conference also featured a session about cork quality and an an extensive study by Nielsen of consumer-buying habits based on brand image and packaging. Tasting sessions explored how total package oxygen varies during the bottling process and how screwcaps and kegs can affect the sensory qualities of wine.

    Between sessions, attendees had a chance to participate in “speed dating with designers.” Winemakers, winery owners, marketing staff and others brought examples of their current packaging or proposals and had a chance to meet with one of several professional designers. At the sound of a bell, attendees were able to move on to another designer to get fresh eyes and different opinions on their packaging strategies.

    The packaging conference, design contest and speed dating with designers will return to Napa in August 2016.

About Meiomi
In 2006, Belle Glos spawned Meiomi (which means “coast” in the native language of Northern California’s Wappo tribe). The name reflects the vineyard sources in three coastal counties for the brand’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. At first, the labels emphasized the Belle Glos name, but as the market grew, the labels morphed, and now Meiomi is an exclusive identity, which now belongs to Constellation.

In 2007, Wagner consulted with Emeryville, Calif.-based designer Tony Auston for some simple changes to the label. “What seemed to be a lot of money turned out to be well spent,” Wagner said. It’s a traditional paper label with foil embellishment.

One thing that makes the package a stand out is the closure. Meiomi’s target market is on-premise, by-the-glass sales. Wagner surveyed restaurant buyers and learned that servers craved a premium red wine with a screwcap closure. He opted for the WAK screwcap from Guala. With threads concealed under a capsule, it looks almost like a sparkling wine cork, but a tiny arrow offers direction to twist off. “I think it’s altered the perception of screwcaps for fine wines,” Wagner said.

How did he get $315 million for his “under the radar” brand? Wagner suggested the tri-appellation package and the fact that the $20-plus bottles “look more like $40” were key.

Wagner is not resting on his multi-million-dollar cushion. Current projects include the “Silver” Mer de Soleil bottle. Formerly glazed ceramic, it tells a story: The wine is fermented in concrete tanks. Because ceramic bottles are not recyclable and don’t take kindly to screwcaps, new bottles will be glass-treated to resemble the ceramic.

Beran (“bear”) Zinfandel bears a screen print of the California coastline, giving it a sense of place, capped by a gold and black wax top. The screen print, Wagner said, creates texture, inviting consumers to pick it up off the shelf.

Although Wagner employs an in-house manager of packaging, he said, “I’ve always found it entertaining to watch the changes.” He advised other wineries to keep their eyes open. “What’s old will be new again,” he said. “Control as much as possible in your packaging.”

Designers get their digs in
Moderated by Andrew Rice, creative director of Trinchero Family Estates and its 300-plus SKUs, a panel of top wine package designers followed Wagner, starting with Auston, who’d been instrumental in the Meiomi package.

How does the design process work? It starts, Auston said, with the price point of the product. For the priciest brands, cast metal labels or cartouches from Apholos in Argentina are gaining in popularity. For less expensive brands, digitally printed screwcaps are effective and delivered within days.

Jim Moon said he begins the design process by learning the wine’s story. He asks clients to fill him in with as much of the backstory as possible, adding: “I don’t care how trite it is.” He lauded screwcaps. “They are wonderful, and now available with color-saturated foils. Bright colors and design are vital. “Typically a package has one to five seconds to get attention on a shelf.”

Jeff Hester of Cult Partners reminded the audience to mind their timelines. “It takes a long time to innovate and test” a new package, he cautioned.

Thinking inside the bottle, Auston displayed SGP/Saint Gobain’s intriguing and internally embossed bottles. Although when full they don’t look dramatically different than a standard bottle, as the wine is poured, it displays its interior, tactile “bubbles.”

Custom molds can be a difficult sell in the wine industry. Hester noted that custom molds require more cost and longer timelines, although manufacturers have started introducing more options that may be stored and displayed in standard formats, including a square-shouldered 750ml bottle used by Tall Dark Stranger, an Argentine Malbec.

Labels, on the other hand, are open for innovation. Auston mentioned a leather label for Brassas Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec from Napa’s Palmaz Vineyards. The leather “smells great,” he said, and reflects the owners’ Argentine origins. The hides for the labels are hand-selected, as reflected in the limited production (200 cases), wine club exclusivity and bottle price (more than $100).

Wines & Vines Packaging Competition

Those attending the Wines & Vines Packaging Conference on Aug. 19 in Napa, Calif., were invited to vote in the inaugural Wines & Vines Packaging Competition. Attendees selected two winners from 24 entries submitted by some of the 39 companies exhibiting at the event to win the Best Overall Package and Most Innovative Packaging awards. Wines & Vines art director Barbara Gelfand Summer presented the Most Innovative Packaging award to Unionpack, which entered the package for St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery’s estate brandy. The award for Best Overall Package went to Sara Nelson of Sara Nelson Design for Sunshine Valley Vineyards’ 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Best Overall Package 2015

Sunshine Valley Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Calif.

Anthony Shen, general manager of Sunshine Valley Vineyards:

"The weight, simple gold layout and wax finish had to convince our foreign consumers that the winemaking is executed with the same care as the packaging.

"To the domestic market, the bold look and the masculine shoulder on the bottle represent the big Cab from our single-vineyard approach."


Wax from Vinpak

Natural Cork from Portocork

Bonete Bottle Supplied by MA Silva

Nickel Medallion Produced and hand-applied at Elite Labels

Silkscreening by Bergin Glass Impressions

Bottled by Ultima Bottling 

"The nickel medallion is an abstract depiction of the sun over sea and the lines of waves visible during rise and set."

Sara Nelson, Sara Nelson Designs:

"As the designer, the challenge was to design a package with an ultimate destination market of China-where there is a cultural emphasis on exchanging gifts."

"We needed the package to be gift-worthy and command a retail price of about $100. Not knowing a lot about the culture, we did a lot of research and relied heavily upon the client's understanding of the culture."


Most Innovative Packaging 2015
   St. Supery

Synthetic cork T-bar closure with a stained wood cap supplied by Bruni Glass

Strip printed by Collotype Digital on a reflecctive BOPP plastic film to reduce internal reflections that result from solid-color backings

Label printed on Fasson Cherry wood veneer stock by Collotype Digital

750ml Contessa, a decanter-style spirits bottle from Bruni Glass

Clear nylon medallion from Unionpack gives the appearance of being part of the glass bottle

BOPP film strip from Collotype Digital numbered by batch and individual bottle

St. Supéry Brandy
Napa Valley, Calif.

Dan Wilson, designer, St. Supéry:

“The overall concept was inspired by the history of where this product originates: Dollarhide Ranch in the hills of Napa Valley, Calif. In the late 1800s, this 1,500-acre ranch belonged to a stout and sturdy man named Andrew Jackson Dollarhide. The Muscat Canelli grapes used in St. Supéry brandy come from Dollarhide Estate Vineyard."

“We wanted to handcraft a brandy that was both evocative of the spirit of Andrew Jackson Dollarhide and captured the unique qualities of the Muscat Canelli grape. We carried the ranch motif through the use of the Dollarhide brand on the wood veneer label. Each wood label was branded by hand and hand-applied. Because of this hands-on approach to the package, there are slight variations from bottle to bottle, further reinforcing the authenticity and character of early ranch life. In combination with the individual numbering on the bottles, we believe the final product gives integrity to our hand-crafted, distilled-in-small-batches brandy.“

Print this page   PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION   »
E-mail this article   E-MAIL THIS ARTICLE   »
Currently no comments posted for this article.