What’s in a label?

Posted by | May 28, 2015 | Reference, Typography | No Comments

This post was mainly inspired by one statistic that blew my mind: 2 out of 3 consumers will buy a bottle of wine based solely on the label, according to the 2014 Galloconsumer wine trends survey. I won’t personally back it up because I generally go to my good ol’ favourite ‘Relax‘ a German Reisling that is sweet yet refreshing. I don’t buy it on the label, but rather I may buy it on the name because I associate it with my action when drinking the wine. But how much does a wine label really matter?

I will admit I have been guilty of it as well; especially in my younger years, buying a bottle of wine for an occasion or just to try out — this can be troublesome and to some; daunting. Especially if your not familiar with makes, varieties of grapes, regions and everything else that classifies a wine.

Think about it, if there was limited product on the shelf this would make our decision very easy; only one bottle of pinot grigio from the south of France using organic berries, in my price range? Alright decision is made, but that’s generally not the case and is much more complicated.

With mass selection, copious varieties, levels of sweetness, origins from all walks of the earth, various price ranges and so on; who has the time to pick out the perfect bottle of wine?!? Of course we then revert to choosing by label. Do we like the label? is it a conversational piece? Is the colour pleasing? Did you have this wine at a dinner party that was claimed to be the best night of your life? Done!

This seems to be a common process and in my opinion, the decision is based around stories. Whether it be the narrative the bottle is telling you or a story you have made with that wine. The last thing you want to do is hand your host a bottle of something you have no clue about and just said yah it was closest thing to the check out counter.

Interesting Stats:

Now don’t be confused this post isn’t me trying to sell you some wines I have yet to try or have tried for that matter. But I will give you some statistics, interesting studies and, in turn; an overall idea to help your brand stick out. Let us see some numbers;

In a study I came across a pdf called ‘The influence of verbal and non-verbal information on the consumer decision – analysis using the example of white wine – written by: Dr. Gergely Szolnoki & Prof. Dr. Dieter Hoffmann & Prof. Dr. Roland Herrmann‘ (click to download).

In this study it states: ‘results have showed that the non-verbal information can have a significantly higher influence on the buying decision than the verbal information and that the extrinsic cues are of vital importance for the consumers when tasting the wine.’

Reading further on in the study it mentions: ‘Wine sales in which professional service is not available add up to more than 75% of the total quantity of wine sold (DWI, 2007). In such cases it is rarely possible to taste the wine or to get any specific information about the product, which means that the packaging becomes a medium of communication between the seller and the buyer.’

Particularly about label information, another fact states: ‘A 2005 survey found that 72 percent of the adult French population finds it difficult to understand French wine labels, and the problem is not unique to that country. Research has also found that most American consumers, especially younger ones, dislike wine labels that picture chateaux, that appear elitist, and that are difficult to understand.’ Found on the wikipedia page for Fat Bastard Wine… which we will get more into, in a bit.

Furthermore: ‘Labels are also the second most important predictor of wine purchase intent, after price.’ Noted on wineeconomics.org.

So, this is pretty much telling me that a lot has to do with the label. But here is the kicker; with wines and alcohol products alike, which have survived the test of time and been around for years maybe even centuries, these lables have achieved great brand recognition. Take Johnny Walker, Jim Beam or Dom Pérignon. These products will most likely be chosen solely on the fact that (in my case) you remember your grandparents drinking it when you were 5. Clearly the brand has great dedication to the craft of creating a great product.

So, if your just breaking into the market now, how do you get chosen over the wisdom bottle?

Instead of trying to convince you that the label is the most important aspect of your product or that it really does factor into your bottom line sales — I will dive into a few design elements of wine and alcohol products and discuss particularly how the designs determine their brand. These labels have stood out for me as a designer as well as a consumer.


So many things can make your label pop out of the sea of choice. Gold foiling/stamping, embossing, silk screen printing, gloss varnish even the type of paper you use to print your label on; the options are endless — so what really makes the label pop? I am getting a little carried away and I will leave a more in depth post about print techniques for a later post, but let’s talk more about the process of the brand what you want on the label.

Ok, ok… a little teaser on print techniques I came across this amazing video showing how they hand-craft and sand blast pre-made bottles; making your bottle a one of a kind masterpiece:

I digress.

Before even considering the design, there are a few things to ask when developing a product line that are, oh so very important.

Like… who is buying your product or who do you want to target towards (millennials being the largest consumer group to date in the US, and most likely Canada so they would probably be your first market), what classification are you looking to produce, is your product specific to region and what pallet commonly enjoys this, is your consumer knowledgeable about pairings, or do they care. What is your story and how can that leverage your brand? Do you want to make your product highly accessible, or limited? Classic, or cheeky? How many varieties would you like to produce and is their a series? … just to name a few.

As a designer, I have found so many varieties of labels but I think I have simplified it (aha! moment), here is a list of some label design classifications to choose from to kind of narrow down the identity and overall look you are going for.

Cute or not-so-cute animals on your label:

Why do a lot of bottles have animals? Some popular labels with animals are: Yellowtail, Goats Do Roam, Kraken (rum) and even the Cooper’s Creek cat series including: Cat’s Phee on a Gooseberry Bush.

Animals on bottle labels

Particulalry animals are used in labelling because they are easy to identify. Animals are aesthetically diverse; whether the label is hand drawn, monotyped, illustrated, geometric or stylized. Whatever the case it is a common use for labelling and highly effective.

Classic or traditional labels:

Generally when you go into the vintage section of the wine store you will commonly find labels with beautifully type set logos, names set in well-kerned Sarif, Didone or Script fonts with imagery including coat of arms, wood cut or etched image of a winery or the origin, even an emblem or monogram. The printing is just as nice with gold foil stamping or embossed details.

Although some of the vintages popping up now are not generally as classic and breaking out of the typical vintage style. Trying to gain recognition in a very diluted market as a not-so-vintage, vintage.

Vintage labels

Bottle shape:

If you want a very custom brand you may want to consider how your bottle is held in the hands of your consumer what is the feeling they get when they hold the bottle and how it is seen in distance or on a shelf so that the bottle is recognizable.

La Publilla Pere Ventura; a bottle that is elegantly shaped and pubilla in spanish is the eldest daughter of the family. And Pere Ventura being the founder of the winery.

Black Tower, as the name states looks like a big black tower literally. Not hard to find on the shelf and is known for it’s bottle shape.


Crystal Head Vodka is another very recognizable bottle and of course associate it with the founder Dan Aykroyd, giving it a high profile product.


Mateus; a portugese rose wine; a classic and not so expensive wine that originally began production in 1942.

Mateus Wine

Colour for Branding:

Veuve Clicot one of the most famous and globally known labels for it’s patent orange colour (Pantone 137C). It has claimed to be the only lebel to use this colour. Making it unique and formed to it’s high end champaign clientele.


If you also look at particular classifications within certain brands they are generally colour coded: A great example is the Johnny Walker labels. Red label, Black Label, Green label, Blue lebel etc.



Elegance with form and function. Braille has become a lot more common on labels after Chapoutier; being first wine producer to introduce braille on its labels, starting in 1994 with the Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage wine. By 1996 this was expanded to include all wines bottled and sold by the Chapoutier winery. It is an absolutely beautiful way of communicating to your consumer and reaching a broader audience to incorporate braille into your wine label.

Belleruche M.Chapoutier 2009

La Sera Wine Labels; ‘La Sera’ meaning ‘the evening’ bringing in a cycle theme while the braille encompasses the ‘enjoyed by all’ feeling.


Braille has also expanded to beer cans; in Japan it is a norm to see a canned product with the braille description of it on the top of the can to determine it’s contents.



Aux Natural:

Given a lot of products coming out are natural, organic, non additives etc. But bringing in the idea of having a fully organic product is also become a bit of a norm. See these examples here:

Alternative Organic Wine proudly claims that ‘every aspect of the packaging was natural, from the outer wrapping paper with the grape leaf pattern printed using organic inks, to the laser-cut balsa wood label, to the string and the wax seal used to affix the label.’


Another great example is the Merum wine label which it’s latin origin name means ‘pure and unadulterated’. It’s western australian estate is on land where 85% remains under native vegetation. Not only that the imagery is illustrations or wildlife and plants common to the Pemberton area.


Paper Boy: A wine label that is not only fully recyclable most likely saves emissions of delivery because of it’s weight and is really well thought out. Designed by Stranger and Stranger.


Another great example of recycling is how Protea (Named after South Africa’s national flower) the wine company has a blog where you can see how to reuse their beautifully crafted wine bottles. They are heavy-metal free and the ideas for them are endless.

Reusable Wine Bottles by Protea

I mentioned in a previous post about sustainability within your restaurant design; that if you claim to have an organic product you should probably focus on having a fully organic and natural product regarding the packaging, not just the product itself.

Cheeky Copy: This one seems to be a huge cellar (ha!).

Great text and copy in your label can inspire, entertain or even shock your consumer. But if it’s done with taste (no pun intended-again) your bottle may be the pick of the bunch.

Oops: imitating pages from a newspaper and with a story to tell on the bottle label itself. When launched the sales of the bottle had the highest number in sales in one of the main commercial chains in the US. Showing a label can sell when no history or word of mouth to help it succeed. Designed by Lisa Simpson or Pearlfisher. Resource: The big book of bags, tags, and labels Cristian Campos

Oops Wine label

‘Soggy Bottom Boys’; Although this bottle has gained a lot of recognition for it’s blunt copy online, I later found it was most likely not an actual legit winery and more of just a joke. But hay, the option is out there if your looking to produce a cheeky brand.

Soggy Bottom Wine

Fat Bastard Wine Label: Was considered a “marketing phenomenon” by BusinessWeek Magazine. With it’s branding genius sold just over 400,000 cases in it’s first year after launching.

Fat Bastard Wine

A recent discovery of mine was a series of wines under the name Small Talk Vinyard. Their wines have a story to tell having the contrast of conversations; one side being the pleasant and sweet in contrast to the back side uttering the reality of thoughts people may have in their heads. Yes I bought this based on the label, but aside from the label the wine wasn’t that bad either.

Small Talk Vinyard


Having fun with your Label

To me bottles that have fun with their labels is also just another reason to buy. Some of these examples have either creatively approached their wine and presenting it by tying in the craft of the wine making in with the craft of their label.

Delhaize Wine Labels use the cork as a creative craft project for their label:


cork labels


Another fun one is Château Mouton Rothschild who is known (since 1945) to commission artists to produce their wine labels annually. They created a label called the Blasted Church.

Noted in a Maclean’s article; that ‘the Blasted Church skeptics were silenced: the label generated buzz and won international design and marketing awards’.

Blasted Church Wine Labels

Lastly but not leastly; a great concept; Brandon Oltman states ‘The purpose was to design a limited edition wine bottle for Cargill’s Empyreal 75, an all-natural, highly digestible protein concentrate for dog and cat diets. The target audience for the red wine was pet food manufacturers who were attending the Pet Food Forum Tradeshow and were considering using Empyreal 75 protein as an ingredient for their pet food.’ With this, Brandon has not only made the bottle unique to the target market but made it interactive as well. Kudos!

Draw a dog Wine bottle - connect the dots



As mentioned, Millennials are the highest consumers to date, so most studies have been made on them alone and it is good to know what they like to begin with. When you begin the process of determining your design, you may also want to look into the design trends, as with everything that is on a shelf or to be consumed there are always going to be trends.

Colours: Ofcourse there has been plenty written on the colour perception of labels, but in a recent study there shows a guided eye towards Yellows and Greens being perceived as exciting and imaginative. ‘loud colours can imply frivolous products; dark, rich colours are associated with high quality.’ Mind you the article later on suggests the restriction of their market group being Spanish students in their 20s.

Another study suggests: colour alone does not elicit as strong preferences as certain shapes do, at least when they are assessed irrespectively of the shapes featured in the label.

In a study mentioned in this post on academic wino states:

    ‘The most important attribute considered by Millennials when purchasing wine in a retail setting was the label description.  A simple, rather than complex, label description was also preferred.’

It further states: ‘labels that are more eye-catching and, dare I say “flashy”, appeal more to the Millennial generation and thereby will more likely result in their purchasing of that wine’

Mind you the article states some restrictions on the study, but overall I think this is quite accurate, being an older millennial myself.

Like this concept of a Simpsons pop art like label would you buy it solely on the label? I probably would as throughout my childhood I grew up watching the Simpsons and its fun and colourful almost Andy Warholish — although it was meant to mock Mondriaan. It would be like a piece of art in my kitchen.

Simpsons Wine Bottles


And talking about wine being art, there was even an exhibit put on at the San Franscisco Museum of Modern Art displaying Wine bottles as though they were pieces of hanging art; which quite frankly they are.

Technology has added another dimension to the possibilities: making the sky the limit. Check out what Heinz did as an app here or see the video below:

If this app was used for a wine label you can access mixed drinks, menu items and cocktails. Giving your customer options and variety in how they use your product!

So that said, there is a lot to consider — do you want to be trendy or would you want to stick with classic label?


I forgot Beer! The independent beer market alone has increased dramatically over the past few years bringing in a lot of independent breweries and speciality beers along the way. With this, the mass in levels and variety in labels that are bound by no limits. As I mentioned; bringing in more selection brings in more confusion. So I will bounce into a beer segment post for a later date, please stay tuned!


So when you look back on this post, there is a consistency with all the popular labels and market dominating brands. ‘Brand’ begin the key word. They all have developed a signature brand that has a unique story and kept the design simply aligned with how they want to be perceived. Maybe a little quirky, maybe elegant or even rustic. It is the keeping it simple part that is probably the hardest, so just try to narrow down your brand to the bare bones, while effectively and distinctly telling a story.

I would hope to prove in this post that a label design can increase numbers, but what really counts is the story you tell through your brand and the care and love you take in producing a fine product. This will generally shine through in making your product a success.

Additional Inspiration:

Two of my favourite places to view fine wine labels with great Inspiration and packaging:

Stranger and Stranger:
They have not only one copious amounts of award for their projects but they have eye candy for everyone; whether your into a detailed artistic bottle or a finely type crafted label.

Dieline Spirits & Liquor
Dieline Wine & Bubbly
Dieline is a great showcase of packaging!

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