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Purchasing Wine Based on the Label

D ecoding D ecanting

When, Why, and How

July - October 2015 $3.95



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Do you purchase wine based on the label?

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Some might like a list of general rules for brand design. Over the past 27 years of my professional design and marketing career, I have gradually refined my style and developed a few opinions. I believe that it is dangerous for rules to become too strict or methods to devolve into formulas. Overly formulaic “textbook” design is a death knell to branding, because a brand should have some outstanding quality — something that makes it unique, a personality. If a brand exhibits a real personality, it will attract other personalities. We aren’t all close friends with the same people. Brands will connect with certain individuals and groups of like-minded people differently. So the next time a label calls out to you, try not to be too skeptical but scrutinize the label and see if it’s speaking your language. While you’re perusing the wine section, look for the labels that speak to YOU.


hat follows are some thoughts about design using my work for Arizona beverage businesses as examples. But to start, I’ll highlight an Arizona wine brand that I love but did not develop. Chateau Tumbleweed is a winery based in Clarkdale, Arizona and is owned by two husband & wife teams. The

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Photo courtesy of Chateau Tumbleweed

It is not surprising that many wine drinkers do, because the purpose of the label is to communicate. A label might call to you from down the aisle or it might subtly nod to you as you pass. A picture or a drawing of some grand estate with classical architecture may feature prominently, giving an idea of stability and consistent quality. You may be looking for something good and cheap and the label actually says “Good Cheap Wine” in big, bold letters. Both wine makers and wine lovers often debate about the value and impact of wine labels. Some wine buyers say that design is meaningless and has no influence over what they buy, some say that they were tricked into buying a bottle by misleading design, and some credit the label art with introducing them to a favorite wine. While it is true that a good designer can dress up a bottle and make it attractive, the contents will ultimately reveal if the visual sales pitch was true. Personally, I believe that the packaging is part of the taste experience of a wine. Here in Arizona, we have many wine tasting rooms where people can sample the wines before buying. I have often observed a fellow taster ask which wine he was just served and then look at the artwork on the bottle, thereby associating a label with the taste of the wine. I like to think of it as a grown-up version of a child eating cereal while staring at the box. The tiger on the box makes the frosted flakes taste better, I swear! As both a designer and a wine drinker, I have made a game out of buying unfamiliar wines by examining only the label. I try to figure out which characteristics the wine will express based on the packaging and take the analysis to a deeper level than color or imagery: Was it designed by an owner/ winemaker? Was the designer happy or frustrated with this project? Were the logo and label designed by two different people? Is the winery owner aloof or sociable? … and so on. Basically, I psychoanalyze the label. I have a high success rate using this method, because the design style - with its consistencies and inconsistencies - tells a story. A strong but mismatched design could make a person buy the wrong wine once, and a wine lover’s perfect wine may be wrapped in an unattractive label, but the ideal synergy happens when a well-developed design introduces the right wine to the right person. The design speaks to an individual and his drinking the wine confirms what he believed. That leads to a relationship of sorts between that label and its new friend. At this point the brand is a small part of that person’s life and likely to be introduced to someone else through the best marketing vehicle of all time - conversation (enhanced by “word-of-mouth 2.0” the ever-changing variety of social media platforms available). When I use the term, ‘brand’, I’m talking about the personality projected by the company or winery. Often there is a logo - a recognizable ‘face’ for the brand. But to brand any business is a process and is part of the greater ongoing conversation that the organization has with its audience.

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When a Wine Label Speaks to You . . . wine labels have a recognizable and unique style, featuring drawings of characters with tumbleweed heads, bodies or hair. The overall feeling conveyed is that anything could happen on the next bottle. The drawings are by Kris Pothier with layout by Jeff Hendricks. Kris explains, ”The characters I draw have to do with the wine. Each wine has a new story about nature’s communication. For years I have used people as examples of characteristics I was tasting in the glass. They were a completely natural creative process and have no boundaries

so they will continue to shift and change. We all have fun sitting around and naming them, and Jeff and I have a great time working on the layout. They are the fun part of keeping things in Chateau Tumbleweed’s wine image light, meanwhile making the wine itself very serious.” Kris says that they don’t consider any “business baloney” when they make their labels, and she adds, “I draw them, Jeff and I sit and work out the coloring together, and the team names the characters in a drunken fit of fantastic energy. We love what we do, it inspires us. Creativity is our lives.”

Some thoughts about design Logos: A logo should be memorable and recognizable.

It should be as simple as possible. Note: Simple is not always easy. When developing a logo, it is a common mistake to ignore the potentially awkward, large, or tiny places that a logo might be displayed over time. Extra planning and a little more thoughtfulness can save time and money by avoiding the need for multiple versions of the logo, overly diverse color schemes, or expensive printing methods. The font that goes with the logo should be easily readable. Ideally the logo font would be unique and appropriate to the icon or mark (if there is one). (6)


Labels can have a variety of objectives, but when brand visibility is a key goal (as it generally should be) the logo should be obvious. Thematic elements on the label should strongly hint at the contents of that bottle or the winery’s overall identity.

Colors: Color has enormous potential when used as a vi-

sual and emotional cue. (4) Simple and consistent use of color can help explain the identity of a winery or help a label stand out from the crowd. (3) It can also evoke a mood.


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(1) Sand-Reckoner Vineyards - This bold style comes from my favorite type of collaboration. Many hours of tasting wine and talking with owners Rob and Sarah Hammelman slowly crystalized to become what you see in these labels. Math and infinity were always part of the discussions. Early versions of the logo were complex shapes based on Möbius strips, but july - october / july – octobEr march – june

eventually the perfect simplification emerged as an infinite hyphen. Even the simple sweeping line motif on the Malvasia Bianca, Rosé & Picpoul Blanc labels (5) is based on a calculus equation. (2) Sweet Adeline is a special label for the Carlson Creek Vineyards semi-sweet Riesling. This design developed through conversations with John Carlson about his grandmother, Adeline Carlson. The final label design is a modernization of the Art Nouveau style and connects well to the existing labels for CCV. (6) Rune Wines already had the geometric grape cluster logo and needed a font style that would match. I created the characters based on the shapes in the existing logo combined with the rugged elegance of letters in ancient runic writings. (7) Confident Brewer (a new homebrew/winemaking supplies/fermentables shop in Sierra Vista) - The topics of hospitality, community, big smiles, and homemade fermented products were always part of our design discussions. This friendly “smiling pint glass” in the negative space between a stylized “CB” was the happy result of these conversations.

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Azwine jo2015 issuu online winelabelsspeak  

Do you purchase wine based on the label?

Azwine jo2015 issuu online winelabelsspeak  

Do you purchase wine based on the label?