Wine is both a work of art and a commercial product.
It’s born out of craftsmanship, inspiration and a desire to express something to the world. Then, like any good or service, it’s marketed, shipped and, with luck, sold.
It’s odd, then, that many of these pourable pieces of art—whose raison d’être is to attract consumers—carry labels that are earnest, overly formal and often as creative as a mile marker on the freeway.
It’s no wonder so many people are spooked when staring down a wall of wine at the shop. The packaging can be dry, confusing and snooty, making a novice feel dressed down and even ignorant.
But there’s a new generation of producers and designers who don’t want to portray wine as some elite product. Instead, they want it to feel fun and flat-out cool, and they’re making wildly creative and alluring labels to match.
Coming from mostly small and fledgling producers the world over, these new-wave packaging pioneers aren’t creating artistic labels for the sake of art—there’s a keen marketing method to their madness. After all, like every winemaker, they want their wines to sell.
“Many of the smaller producers we work with are just starting out and need to stand out in some way. They know the wine is good, they know people will like it and they also know they have nothing to lose, so they go for it,” says Garrett Deiter, who, with his fiancée Sarah Berger, co-founded Makers & Allies, a design and branding firm in San Luis Obispo, California, that has helped regional producers like Desparada Wines, Folkway Wine Co. and Cane & Fable Wines create some ground-breaking labels in recent years.
Beyond trying to stand out on the shelf, bold and even funny labels are simply more approachable—something craft beer and artisanal spirit marketers have known for years—and this helps attract younger drinkers.
Wine producers with playful labels, such as Orin Swift in California, the Cattral Brothers Vineyard in Oregon and Léon Perdigal in Côtes du Rhône, know if the packaging isn’t cool and Instagram-ready, people in their twenties won’t buy it, no matter how tasty or well-priced the wine.
“Wine is such an intimate experience already,” says Sarah Berger. “You usually share it with someone else. And assuming the wine is good, it’s a bonus when you can show off this really cool-looking bottle, too.”
This richer experience is a marketer’s dream, because it helps a producer pull off one of the hardest things to do in the vast and oversaturated wine marketplace: create a deeper brand imprint on the drinker.
“A cool label can create an emotional connection to the wine,” says Berger. “People will remember that, and they’ll want it again.”
Bottles We’re Crushing (pictured above)
Alpha Box and Dice Apostle 2010 Shiraz-Durif (McLaren Vale)
Alpha Box & Dice 2011 Kit and Kaboodle Red Blend (McLaren Vale)
Alpha Box & Dice NV Mistress Envy Red Blend (Barossa)
Herman Story Wines 2011 Late Bloomer Grenache (California)
Cane & Fable 2013 “373” Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles)
Sans Liege 2008 Sancha Marsanne (Paso Robles)
Feudi del Pisciotto NV Carolina Marengo Grillo (Sicily)