Firstly I want to say that this article was written with glass in hand, it was a fabulous excuse to ‘research’ and ‘expand my knowledge’ of viticulture and all things wino. The pairing of something modern (typography and illustration design) with something ancient (think Roman god of wine and all things fun Bacchus) has always fascinated me.
With modern visual trends, technology and society having evolved so much and wine, in comparison, being basically the same drink, is design and wine a neat match? Well it’s certainly important for selling the 98.7 billion dollars of wine produced globally in 2009.
The wine industry is divided into the Old World (Mainland Europe: France, Spain, Italy and Germany) and the New World (USA, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, Chile and New Zealand). It is not only history and geography that divides these two worlds but production and marketing techniques that create entirely different experiences, tastes and consumers. Traditionally, Old World wines have regulations and standards that require the producer to list the region where the grapes were grown, the producer, vintage, quality etc. However detailed this may be, it can offer surprisingly little information whether it will compliment the trout you’re holding in your left hand.
What revolutionised the modern global wine industry was label simplification and emphasis on grape variety (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay etc.) The U.S. was the big wine success story growing an insatiable appetite for varietal label imported wines such as the Australian drop Yellow Tail. 50 years ago, wine was seen by your average U.S. consumer as an elite beverage with lots of spitting and sniffing. Simple, understandable, eye-catching bottle and label design with the grape variety pride of place was the catalyst for turning the product from minor player to world-wide juggernaut.
With scores of producers and growers cottoned on to this billion dollar industry how do you break out of the wine line and into the hands of our dinner party attendee? While quality, marketing, reputation and awards are all influential, an eye catching label, bottle or even better a well thought through combo of the two are often the drivers of consumer choice when people are staring blankly at shelves.
Some eye-catching recent world-wide campaigns
1. Jaspi Blanc – DO Tierra Alta. This label is a subtle and refreshing new world take on the less well-known Spanish whites. While specialised printing techniques such as foiling as seen here and embossing have always been used, illustrative foiling is fertile but untoiled ground. Really successful labels add to the wine experience by reflecting something of what’s inside – this is clean, fresh and herbaceous.
2. Casillero Silva. A truly international collaboration. A Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon made with modern viticulture techniques for Anglophone consumers, it is lovingly wrapped in a Swedish designed label that speaks of lust and indulgence. A great marriage of modern playful typography and textualised photography that leaps from the shelf into your hand.
3. Finca de la Rica. El Buscador & El Guia are conceptual pieces that invite consumer participation. I have never seen negative space work so well on labels. With understatement, Studio Dorian effortlessly marries typography and illustration on wrappers for these, wines for thinking people.
All these wines are positioning themselves for a certain type of customer. For good, bad or worse the wine’s personality is reflected by the label. Why does a wine position itself as the common man’s champion such as the Arrogant Frog (above) or as a fun flirty indulgence that is to be shared over a giggle? A fine artisan drop that is handcrafted by generations of French aristocrats contrasts nicely with the local footy club’s annual gala plonk or the vintage from around the bend, up the dusty track or where you’d rather be. These different levels are what makes wine the ultimate perceptual or marketing tool: off grape juice in a wrapper. It’s beautiful.
The design of the wine label not only pulls in the $10 customer, it also influences the luxury market. In 1946, Baron Philipe de Rothschild, patriarch of French Chateau Mouton Rothschild, decided to clothe each year’s bottle with the work of a different artist 1975 Andy Warhol vintage below (on the left).
Each year the bottles are collectors items but with the growing influence of Chinese buyers in the high-end market, the announcement that the 1998 vintage would be designed by Chinese artist Xu Lei produced a 20% price spike overnight. You can get your hands on a bottle for the price of a small car.
Wine labels, promotion, marketing and imagery like all established industries is set for change. These changes are going to come from new markets, new technology, successful campaigns and international collaboration. Slowly the old world will merge into the new, and like the European examples shown above, class and quality won’t be dictated by regions and convention but by the product and how the label and bottle add to the experience.