The Art of Labeling Wine
Although alcoholic beverages may have had their beginning as an accidental fermentation of honey or grape juice more than 5000 years ago the art of labeling the wine bottle has become anything but an accident. With both wine making and wine tasting truly becoming art forms it was only natural that the labels themselves followed suit.
Labeling power has huge impact in any industry both in product promotion and consumer selection but the ability to marry art world appeal with savvy wine consumerism is fast becoming the true art behind a bottle of wine. The sexy business of successfully serving-up the best wine is a marriage of the five senses. The more pleasure enhancing the package and in turn its label the more likely the bottle will beg from the shelf to be taken home.
Is the art commissioned for the wine or is the wine spirited to match the art? The answer is both and although the label has to make the consumer want to pick up the bottle the wine has to make them come back for more. Either method of this chicken and egg, swill and label puzzle has to produce marketing success and the seductive art of labeling is heating up worldwide.
The days of family crests, landscapes or grape clusters are being left behind for labels described by the once palate pleasing terms of tasting, incorporating imagery that is nothing short of stimulating, sweet, seductive, catchy, playful, clever, whimsical, spicy, lavishing, charming, both simplistic and complex yet with a natural beauty.
The old pass labels of masculinity featuring a wolf or a hawk have been updated by the likes of the whimsical labeling of California’s Cline Cellars along the total removal of any unnecessary snobbery often associated with wines. In the not to be taken too seriously category is Cline’s Red Truck wine, available in both red and white, said to have a bright fresh character not unlike the obvious bright fresh label featuring a vivid red 1947 Dodge Stakeside.
Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz Ca. has to be one of the best examples of whimsical art meets powerful marketing with their labels practically shouting out from the bottle “Take me home and play with me!”
The web site offers the doontoons animated story lines behind many of the proclaimed Python-meets-South Park’ labeling of Bonny Doon’s wines. Their self-dubbed alternative Dooniverse’ works its way off the label and into every aspect of their marketing right down to a published mantra of “Have as much fun with wine as the relevant governments agencies will allow.”
Bonny Doon’s Exquisite Corpse wine claims to have drawn the name from a 1925 Paris parlor game of tapping into the collective unconscious which according to Bonny Doon led to a historic gaming sentence of “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau” (The exquisite corpse drinks the new wine), leading to the name for both the game and this new wine, the Exquisite Corpse.”
The fame of the Exquisite Corpse word game brought the creation of an additional game of collective images and following suit the edgy winemaker created a label featuring the collection of three images by three different artists illustrating one section each that of the head, top and trunk, resulting in the modern abstract label of Exquisite Corpse wine.
The Canadian winery rivaling the marketing greats of Bonny Doon is Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna B.C. with a winner in the fall of 2004 at the 9th Annual British Columbia Wine Label Awards in the category of Domestic Label.
Summerhill’s Star Galaxy series features none other than a 59 Ford Galaxy on a nostalgic romp through the Okanagan Valley and hopefully driving its way to a dinner table near you. The winery, already famous for its organic pyramid power of enhancing aging, decided to spin the concept of easy-drinking affordable blends and developed the now popular Star Galaxy Series of wines featuring a white, a rose and a red. This series was crafted as a fun and accessible easy-drinker intended for daily consumption with all foods and moods.
Artist Bernie Hadley-Beauregard, famous for his Blasted Church labels created this new retro like art label series telling the tale of a couple making their way to the winery. The Star Galaxy White label has the lost couple consulting a map; the red has them back on their way passing a colourful billboard featuring Summerhill and finally the rose highlighting the end of their journey with them enjoying a romantic picnic on the edge of the winery. The labels are bright, colourful and whimsical and the mood is a perfect fit of funky retro right down to the deep purples and greens.
The selections based on eye-catching label appeal are endless if one takes the time to browse you can impress your hostess with a gift beyond the beverage. A romantic evening can now start with the likes of seductive tango legs on Argentina’s Bodega Norton estate bottled LoTengo, billed as the perfect partner to dance the night with. For the bird lover there are endless choices from Pelee Island Winery including flowers, butterflies, poppies and even lizards. Smoking Loon from Sebastiani actually sports a cigarette-sucking loon, and Australia’s Simon Gilbert offers up cats and roosters to compete with Hardy’s koalas, kangaroos and cuckoo birds. It seems that on today’s wine bottles almost anything passes for art although the traditional wineries of France, Italy and Germany seem to be bypassing the marketing craze of the zany art label.
Short of testing a wine for personal preference many rely on their limited judgment when browsing the shelf. The marketing appeal of the label can be the deciding factor in an uninformed casual purchase. Most have little to go on other than tasting in which it is best to swish the wine throughout your mouth as both the front and back of the tongue contain the taste buds capable of detecting sweet, sour, bitter and salty flavours, although some maintain the aroma nerves in the nose are the true subtle detectors when wine-tasting.
In the fiercely competitive industry of wine merchandising, one can only conclude that for the less-savvy consumer buying eye-candy that a scratch and sniff label can’t be that far away!