When it comes to the wine market, we can’t stress professional wine label design enough. Snobbery is prevalent from every corner of the vintner world, so you want your upstart wine to come into the market with all guns loaded.
Oh, there are some wine label and packaging design aficionados that make a point of seeming hip and insouciant and weird (the Versus wine pouch, anyone?), but the general wine community attitude is: Only questionable wines rely upon gimmicks and showmanship; a good wine sells itself. This is largely true. Of course, there are strange cultural phenomena to take into account, and wine consumers are as susceptible to peer pressure as any awkward 14-year-old.
The wine prestige effect on the consumer is tangible. Remember the movie Sideways? The main character had a massive personal and academic affection for Pinot Noir and a deep disdain for Merlot. Well, movie fans — fans that may or may not have known anything about wine — responded by buying more Pinot Noir and less Merlot for several years after the film’s release. Apparently, no one wants to seem like a wine hick, and until roughly 2009, enjoying Merlot meant that you were probably just as likely to pair a foie gras with a diet Mountain Dew.
So, how can you make your wine bottle stand out while still maintaining the general wine status quo? We’ll do our best to help.
Unique but Not Desperate
Because vintners have to have some measure of history and expertise on their side in order to be trusted by anyone, the wine label design has to reflect their pride in the quality of their wine while still individuating themselves from the pack. Gimmicks may work for some products, but they won’t work for wine – if you want the customer to buy more than one bottle.
You want your wine label design and packaging to look luxurious. Unlike beer, wine still isn’t an “everyman” kind of beverage; you can buy a cheap beer without too much shame, but no one buys the cheapest wine on the shelf without feeling like they owe the cashier some kind of explanation. Even if your bottles retail for $4.99 (or [gasp!] less), your label and bottle design should be on par with the most prestigious vintages available. This doesn’t mean you are trapped mimicking the expensive bottles’ designs; it just means that your design must be considered, deliberate and sleek.
There is a fine line between whimsy and gimmicky. Because sophisticated people generally pride themselves in their wit (whether they possess it or not), it’s possible to create a wine label that says, “Tee-hee, aren’t I amusing? I thought of if while I was playing polo with the Marquess of Stafford on my yacht. It’s a huge yacht, by the way.” The wine label humor formula is: Noel Coward = good; Adam Sandler = not so good.
A wine label designer has to take more than the typography and graphics into account; the quality of the label itself plays a huge part in the marketability of a fine (or not-so-fine) wine.
For example, a glossy or plastic label can seem beautiful when photographed for a design or winery website, but when it sits on the shelf, the reflection of the light can obscure the label details. Also, black labels can look elegant during the concept phase, but if they get scuffed during shipping (and they often do), they can make the wine look cheap. This doesn’t mean that black or dark labels should never be used, but it does mean that the designer must take potential scuffing into account, and perhaps incorporate a weathered look into the label’s aesthetic (such as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Carmine wine jugs).
Wine label design might seem to have tons of non-negotiable rules, but they can be navigated in such a way as to produce truly exceptional and individualistic labels. Don’t despair if you’re not a hoity-toity sort of person; sophisticated, interesting and appropriate ideas will come — though you might have to watch significantly more “Downton Abbey” than you might want.