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Wine Label Design: Art or Consumer Appeal?

November 8, 2010

Tom Wark wrote an interesting blog post last week about a new book on wine label design. Basically he posits the perspective that for some small production wines, the label can be anything the winemaker wants it to be because the wine sales have already been allocated to club members or aficionados. To translate more specifically, the label, doesn’t have to ‘sell’ the wine. On the other hand, large production houses are compelled to create wine label designs that move the product off the shelf. They have a mandate to move great quantities of cases, necessitating design that is known to sell to buyers. That may translate into the simplest visual presentation possible. Or the most shocking. After all, they have to get the shopper to stop the moving shopping cart. Heads must actually turn to view the label, amongst dozens or hundreds, sitting quietly on a boring grocery or liquor store shelf. In any event, the goals for any given design must be very clear in order to have the remotest chance at success.

One thing I find eminently curious and enticing is the fact that wine, as a product, seems to attract and compel design far more on the ‘bleeding edge’ than most commercial products in the world today. Examples: Some wineries put their daughter’s artwork on the label. (This is no disparagement on family artwork as many are highly skilled. My point is that, in this case, what goes on the label is an expression of the family dynamic – not necessarily an expression of ‘what sells more wine.’) Some of the examples shown from the book on Mr. Wark’s site show the indulgence of a winemaker or producer who doesn’t need to ‘move product’ but wants to have fun with the label design. On the other hand, many wineries are compelled, due to economics, to scrutinize their wine label design to determine what visuals and/or key words are the magic mix to selling more units. Certainly “Russian River Valley” denotes and sells more upscale wine than the generic “California Coast” moniker? One name explains and justifies a price point differentiation that is entirely different than the 840 mile long coastline of many, many different climates.

What other industries permit, tolerate or encourage such great variation in design? Fashion? Furniture? Appliances?

Label Design - Clos Pegase - 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Well, perhaps not the latter. There are no deodorants with Picasso or Cezanne on the box. Nike has a swoosh. (But it has worked quite well for the, no?) You’re not going to sell as many sofas if the design is utterly the most uncomfortable thing for one’s fanny. And some ‘out there’ fashion may only be found in Lady Gaga’s closet. But all of the above can be found in the extreme and highly various designs found on wine labels. I, for one, love the challenge to the norm. I guess you’d call it: Thinking Outside the Bottle.

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