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Creating a New Wine Label

A wine bottle’s front label may be the most important tool a winery has for driving retail sales. Whether the bottle is in a supermarket, wine boutique or wine bar, the label needs to do the same things. It needs to stand out in a crowd and catch the attention of as many people as possible. Once that attention is captured, the label has about two seconds to communicate what kind of wine it is, whether its quality is appropriate for the price point and what kind of wine consumer it’s targeted at. And it has to do all of this from a distance of at least four feet.

wine_label_big_red_one_final_flatThat’s a lot to ask from a small sheet of paper stuck to the side of a curved bottle. But wait, there’s more. The label also has to identify the winery, vintage, alcohol percentage and, in most cases, the wine’s name and appellation. Plus, it needs to be memorable and easily described. (“Go buy a bottle of that wine with the label that looks like...”)

Then there’s the back label. At a minimum, it must satisfy any legal requirements not taken care of on the front label. These include health warnings, the address of the winery and/or importer, the volume contained in the bottle and sometimes more.

In the space remaining, the back label also needs to close the sale. If the winery is not a well-known brand and the price is higher than about $5, the back label needs to strongly reinforce whatever messages about quality and target market the front label tried to communicate. And it needs to answer questions like these:

  1. “Is this wine right for me?”
  2. “Will I like the way this wine tastes?”
  3. “Will this wine be more appropriate/a better value than that wine over there?”
  4. “Does this wine go with what I’m eating tonight?”
  5. “Will my friends like this?”
  6. “Will buying this wine make me seem cool, savvy, etc.?”

Needless to say, designing wine labels is not a job to be taken lightly. I’m sure glad that I don’t need to do it. Oh, wait... I do. Crushpad’s Fusebox Blogger Challenge requires that we not only create a wine blend but that we create a label for it too. If you decide to make your own wine at Crushpad, or elsewhere, you’ll need a label as well.

Fortunately, Crushpad provides a good online tool for creating labels. They also provide the legal mumbo jumbo that keeps our government happy. You don’t need to be a blender and a lawyer. Ever the non-conformist, I chose to use Crushpad’s template and boilerplate but designed my label in Adobe PhotoShop instead of using Crushpad’s online tool.

Just in case you need to design your own label someday, I’ll walk you through the thought-process I followed in creating mine. (I have not worked in marketing for any wineries, but I do have more than 20 years experience in most aspects of marketing, including packaging, so I’ve got a reasonable background for the task.) I started by asking myself a bunch of questions.

  1. What is the product? It’s a red wine made from Napa Valley “Bordeaux-varietal” grapes. No single varietal within my blend makes up 75% of the whole.
  2. What is the brand? The brand is that of my business, NorCal Wine. That brand has certain design attributes (color, typeface). While it is a wine-oriented brand, it has never been associated with a wine of its own.
  3. What is the target price point? The wine is based on Napa Valley grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, so it can’t be less than $20. However, it has neither a famous vineyard nor winery brand behind it. That means it can’t be very expensive either. $28 would probably be a reasonable retail price.
  4. How is this wine likely to be consumed? The vast majority of wine goes down the hatch within twenty-four hours of its purchase. And, while Cabernet Sauvignon is certainly an age-worthy varietal, very few people would think about aging a $28 wine from a winery with no track record. On the other hand, a Bordeaux-red isn’t something you would expect someone to open when they want a refreshing quaff after mowing the lawn, nor is it likely to be sipped mindlessly while cooking dinner. It’s going to be consumed with food. This wine will go best with red meat.
  5. Who is the target customer? Anybody willing to pony up $28 at retail, more than double that at a restaurant, for a bottle of wine these days must have more than a little enthusiasm for wine. They enjoy it and want to savor it, not just knock it back.
    The Napa Valley appellation is one of the most prestigious in the world. Regardless of the winery brand, the wine and it’s buyer will command a certain amount of respect. On the other hand, the price point is relatively low for the appellation and there isn’t a famous brand or vineyard that would impress a sommelier or a bank executive. So, the target buyer is someone who really likes wine. They understand the value of Napa but can’t afford to pay for a famous brand. They don’t have the knowledge or confidence to select a wine that may be better but at the same price point because its from a less famous, but still excellent, wine region. That sounds like a person in their mid-to-late 20’s.
  6. How might I characterize people in their 20’s? They are image conscious. They are into today’s food culture but are skeptical about sales pitches. They may be conservative or liberal, creative or an engineer, urban or aggie. They aren’t likely to be sold by a cute bunny rabbit on the label or by some faux-romantic story. They want to learn, but don’t necessarily want to be taught.
  7. What else? I decided that the wine will be served with a meal and will go well with red meat. However, I can’t call the wine a “Cabernet Sauvignon” because there’s not enough Cab in the blend for that to be legal. I can’t call it a Bordeaux-blend because it’s not cool to do so if your grapes don’t actually come from Bordeaux.
    I suspect that the buyer won’t know much about Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot. And, unfortunately, the buyer is likely to have seen, or heard about, “Sideways” and might shun anything that says Merlot. Therefore, identifying the blend isn’t going to help the buyer or my “sales.” But I do need to reinforce that the wine will be great with food. To eliminate any doubt, I might tell them exactly what kind of food it’s best suited for.

I could go on, but you’ve got things to do. So, let me briefly tell you what I did.

  1. I minimized the focus on the NorCal Wine brand and emphasized Napa Valley.
  2. I used the NorCal Wine typefaces and colors, applying the boldest color to an oversized  easy-to-read icon as an attention grabber.
  3. I chose an icon that implies quality but lightened the message a bit with “humor.”  The bold typography should also be somewhat appealing to the target audience.
  4. I chose a name for the wine that reinforces the icon.
  5. I avoided any discussion of the exact blend.
  6. Both the front and back labels tell prospective buyers what kind of food the wine will go well with.
  7. The back label also explains why the wine will go with that kind of food and, since there’s no varietal information at all, tells people what kind of flavors and textures to expect.
  8. I tied the body text in with the icon and wine name in a way that gives the icon and name more meaning.
  9. The icon, name and body text can easily be tweaked slightly to accommodate other styles of wine in the future.

    What are your thoughts on the label? What kind of label would you have designed?

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

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