May 2008 Issue of Wines & Vines



by Suzanne Gannon
Wine Label Designers
Sasha Match and Randy Sloan experimented with at least 15 label ideas referencing the brand name Match before a group of butterflies and dragonflies in their vineyard inspired them to dub the property Butterdragon Hill and incorporate a dragonfly into their label design. .

  • Good label design is important and can be a long-lasting
  • A professional label design can cost between $2,000 and $30,000, without focus groups or printing charges.
  • At least one designer will let you try out a label design for 30 days for $1,000 before charging the whole fee.
  • If you change creative direction in the middle of the process, you'll incur additional charges.
The moment a winemaker tires of his or her own label, Susan Sokol Blosser said, is the very moment at which consumers are beginning to recognize it. Nowhere in Sokol Blosser's portfolio is this insight more evident than in Evolution--a blend of nine white varietals including White Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer, among others--which the winery first introduced in 1998 under the name Evolution No. 9--a riff on the Beatles.

Within two years of Evolution's release, the Dundee, Ore.-based winery was threatened with a trademark lawsuit by a Vermont brewery making a No. 9 ale, and rather than become entangled in a prolonged legal dispute, it simplified the label's name to the single word, "Evolution." The winemaker has stuck with it ever since, tinkering only slightly with the look over the years.

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The $17 bottle, which features bold block lettering and the cheeky, four-part mantra "Chill. Pour. Sip. Chill." debuted with a total production of 2,700 cases. It is now distributed around the world, with annual production reaching 57,000 cases, made from the same nine varieties of grapes grown in California, Washington and Oregon--and, arguably, a label that has been seared into consumers' brains.

"You want to tweak, but you don't want to make a major change unless there's something dramatic that you want to say," said winery president Sokol Blosser, who realized early on that Evolution's significance derived from its compatibility with food, not its vintage or appellation, traits that figure prominently into the marketing of the Pinot Noirs for which her winery is known. "And then it's important to realize the marketing it's going to take to get it out before the public."

Personal touch on the label

An ability to withstand the vagaries of the market during the passage of time factored into Kluge Estate Winery & Vineyard's deliberations about the packaging for its New World Red, a Bordeaux-style blend made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot first made in 2001 and released in 2003.

Initially Patricia Kluge, founder and chairwoman of the Charlottesville, Va., winery, was reluctant to go to market with the $40 bottle adorned with a diminutive, terra cotta-colored cameo portrait of Kluge herself. But positive feedback from her inner circle--and the cameo's palpable reference to an earlier age, when Thomas Jefferson's Monticello vineyards were planted in the red earth of Carter's Mountain, not far from the Kluge vineyards--persuaded her to choose it.

"You have to think about something that's attractive and somewhat timeless, because you want it to look good and be remembered," said Kristin Moses Murray, director of public relations and marketing at Kluge Estate.

Wine Label Designers
Dallas, Texas-based designer Megan Reinhardt says a clean, silkscreened design helps helps Kluge Estate's Cru Melange Nouveau stand out in the crowd. See its evolution, from left to right, resulting in the final product.
When the winery decided to modify the package for its Cru Melange Nouveau, a 100% Chardonnay aperitif, the winery hired graphic designer Megan Reinhardt, who heads Dallas-based Reinhardt Creative, a niche-branding studio.

To capture the nuances of the limited production of Cru, fortified and aged in Jack Daniel's barrels, she conceived a minimalist look predicated on a silk-screen application process.

"Silk-screening is the slippery slope," said Reinhardt, who remembers receiving a phone call from the printer in the middle of the job saying, "We can't do that purple."

"You can't do that purple?" she replied. "But it's the color of the winery." After several adjustments, they arrived at the desired hue.

"Purple is one of those silk-screening no-no's," Reinhardt said, citing the difficulty of achieving, in chemical terms, the red that would yield a violet color and the heat process required to seal it.

The bottle features a postage stamp-sized label that reads only "Cru" in crisp capital letters; below it, additional text is silk-screened directly onto the bottle, which retails for about $28.

In a typical label design commission, which tends to last about six months,
Reinhardt develops five or six concepts and tests them with consumers, first against each other and then against a competitive set of other wines in the price category. "You have to make sure it has that grab factor," she said.

"With an $8 bottle, 60% of the time, if the consumer puts the bottle in the basket they will purchase it," she said. "Above $15, the customer picks it up, puts it down, picks it up again. They're scrutinizing."

According to Reinhardt, when a client changes creative direction in the middle of the process, he incurs additional charges for creative services. In that instance, she typically draws up a fresh contract to address the new scope of work.

"If they began by talking about the red flowers in the vineyard and then switch their focus to the little speckled goat in the vineyard, technically they should be paying the creative fee again," she said.

Although it depends on the scope of the project, Reinhardt estimates that the design of a single new label can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000, excluding printing and focus groups.

"Half of it is gut," Reinhardt said. She has just completed the first round of label concepts for Kluge's Albemarle line.

Wine Label Designers
Sugarman Design Group of Fair Oaks, Calif., reviews initial sketches in-house before polishing concepts for a winery presentation and meeting with the printer.
Off-base inspiration

When Sasha Match and Randy Sloan were seeking a label for their St. Helena, Calif.-based brand, Match, they sought the expertise of start-up winery consultant Cary Gott. With the help of a graphic designer, they plowed through at least 15 label ideas referencing various connotations of the word "match."

But it was the producers' son who ultimately inspired the motif that appears on the winery's label: Out in the vineyard one day, the boy caught sight of a butterfly that had wandered among mating dragonflies, and mused on what might come of the cross-breed union of a butterfly and a dragonfly. Thus, the name of the vineyard, Butterdragon Hill, and the design of the label--which features the silhouette of a dragonfly wing--were born.

"The stuff that's off-base is usually where you end up," said Gott, Match's winemaker, who estimates that smaller wineries can usually obtain two workable label concepts for about $5,000, provided they hire a designer well-versed in the limitations posed by the wine label printing process.

"You don't need a focus group to say 'Yuck' or 'Yum,'" Gott said. (Depending on how elaborate they are, focus groups range in price from about $50,000 to $200,000). The real test, he said, is leaving the prototype bottle on the kitchen table before you go to bed and then waking up and gauging your reaction.

Larry Mawby of L. Mawby Vineyards in Suttons Bay on Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula, would agree. The maker of traditional and charmat-method sparkling wines said his focus group consists of himself, his wife and "anyone else who happens to be dropping by the winery that day."

With an annual production of 8,000 cases of 12 different wines, Mawby has become an expert at operating a thermal transfer printer that he purchased for about $2,500, including software. After paying between $2,000 and $4,000 to his label designer in nearby Traverse City, he prints all of his own labels, including batch and serial numbers on each--a component he says consumers appreciate.

"A big printer could never do a run of 300 that cheaply," he said. His wines, marketed under names like Fizz, Sex and Wet, sell for between $13 and $15 per bottle.

No more critters

Down Under, Barbara Harkness, the self-named top dog of the Adelaide, Australia-based Just Add Wine, is hoping her new one-stop shop for wine packaging gains as much traction in the U.S. as it has in her homeland, where the makers of Yellow Tail selected their label from her portfolio.

The entrepreneurial artist, who now pluckily enforces a "No Critters" policy after being asked, on the heels of the 12 million-case retail juggernaut's success, to reinvent the kangaroo some "50,000 times," offers wine producers naming, labeling and packaging services for as little as US$20,000 as part of her Shelf Brand portfolio, which furnishes concepts ready-made for the U.S., Chilean, Argentine, Australian and New Zealand markets.

The client usually provides a design brief electronically, and then her team of four goes to work, sometimes wrapping up a concept within six weeks. For a $1,000 deposit, clients are given 30 days to test a prototype.

"Labels are extremely important," said Tony Coturri, the co-founder and winemaker of Coturri Winery who, in 1999, transformed a 1943 oil portrait of his father at age 26 into a wine label for his Founder's Series. Part tribute to his dad, who died in 1997, and part a healing exercise for himself, Coturri's handiwork now adorns the best batch of each varietal in each vintage and retails for between $25 and $45.

"I've always said to go with your name rather than some gravelly this or gravelly that," he said. "Your name says that you're serious about it."

Upon reflection, he added, "Unless you have a lousy name!"

Do's and don'ts for label design

Wine Label Designers
The textured, uncoated paper label on Corra's 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon--listed at $375 per bottle on elegance, while Duckhorn Vineyards points to its appellation's specialty varietal--both design do's.
To assemble these tips for vintners considering a new label, Wines & Vines sought the expertise of veteran label designer Cindy Gander, who runs a studio in Nicolaus, Calif., and Bill Huey, wine label sales manager for Orange, Calif.-based Labeltronix. Here's what they had to say:
  • Do invest in the copy on the back label; what it says is particularly important to high-end wine buyers.
  • For items destined for retail, consider hot stamping and embossing; they are very effective.
  • Do assign hierarchical priority to the brand name on the label. If the appellation in which it is made is known for that varietal, consider highlighting the region with embossed foil.
  • For expensive wines where you'd like to consider paper colors other than white, consider a beige-green or golden beige.
  • If you stand behind the product you've bottled, use your family name. If your wine is new to the market and competitively priced, contemplate using a whimsical or catchy name.
  • If you're selling an expensive wine, use an uncoated paper stock. For low- to mid-priced bottles, consider a glossy stock.
  • Don't underestimate the time needed to design and print a new label in time to meet a bottling date.
  • Don't make last-minute changes to the label.
  • To avoid a delay in approval by the TTB, avoid words and images that could be construed as demeaning, misleading or sexual in nature.
  • Do not choose pink for the background color on your label.
  • For bottles priced at $10 or less, and those likely to be retailed on the bottom shelf, choose bright colors for the label to make it stand out.
  • Don't get too fancy with typography or font styles. Labels should be easy to read.

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Label Design Suppliers
Advanced Labels
(800) 877-4312
EliteLabel By GM Nameplate
(408) 761-2142
Lightning Labels, Inc.
(888) 685-2235
All Stick Label, Ltd.
(800) 263-2368
G3 Enterprises
(800) 321-8747
Mariner Printing & Graphics, Inc.
(707) 433-7672
Arjo Wiggins USA
(203) 674-6700
Global Package, LLC
(707) 224-5670
McDowell Label & Screen Printing
(469) 246-2700
Auston Design Group
(510) 594-1400, ext. 102
Government Liaison Services, Inc.
(703) 524-8200
QuickLabel Systems (an Astro-Med, Inc., Product Group)
(877) 757-7978
Barclay & Company
(707) 963-3185
HC Napa/Huffman Communications
(707) 257-2585
Sugarman Design Group
(916) 965-5900
Bergin Glass Impressions
(707) 224-0111, ext. 201
Hand/Eye Creative
(651) 967-7476
Swig/Beverage Branding
(415) 252-1448
Britton Design
(707) 938-8378
Just Add Wine
+61 88 223 1824
Wendy Tittel Design, Inc.
(914) 941-9146
CF Napa
(707) 265-1891
LabelOne Connect, Inc.
(503) 646-7933
Vintage 99 Label
(925) 294-5270
Damion Hickman Design
(949) 261-7857
(800) 429-4321
Wine Label Design
(707) 494-0314
(415) 290-2256
Le Blanc Design
(707) 942-9609
Wright Of Thomasville
(800) 678-9019
WS Packaging Group, Inc.
(800) 236-3424
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