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The Leading Edge of Packaging

May 2013
by Jim Gordon
You know the challenge: How do you get your wine brand noticed when 10s of thousands of other brands compete against yours? One way is to create a bold brand or line that combines an attention-getting taste profile with fresh packaging.

Plenty of wineries have faced the challenge successfully in recent years. Just consider the Top 20 New Wine Brands of 2012. We published the roster created by the Symphony IRI Group in our April issue. All but three new brands have crazy names that nobody would have used 10 years ago, like No. 1-selling Skinny Girl—or Be, Acronym, Fancy Pants, Thorny Rose, Wine Sisterhood, Flirt, Insomnia, Flame Lily and Stark Raving. Gone from the hot new brands are the critter names (except for Curious Beasts).

Besides their startling names, the new wines came with some unusual taste profiles rarely considered commercially viable until this decade: Moscato, sweet reds, low-calorie, Sangria, etc. Virtually all of them closed the deal with attention-getting packaging, at least on their labels and some in terms of format and packaging material.

Bold and bright
The bold-name, bright-packaging strategy worked for these brands, all of which came from large or rapidly growing wineries, but could it work for the 7,237 wineries in the United States that WinesVinesDATA lists as smaller than 50,000 cases? Could it work for those who rely on high quality and high prices to make their livings? They have to consider the difference between the leading edge and the bleeding edge of innovation.

Innovation needs to be done very well to succeed, and not every winery has the vision or the talent on its team to pull this off. We can think of one California winery from a very prestigious AVA that created a flashy critter brand and an unforgettable label, but it gave off a downscale vibe and soon the winery was sending out eblasts offering its wines at 50% off. 

Wines & Vines contributing editor Jane Firstenfeld reports about packaging for us several times per year. “It seems to me, if you want your wine to command a higher price-point, stick with premium materials and a classic design,” she says. “If you’re going for big numbers at a low price point, make it flashy.” In this issue Firstenfeld wrote the cover story about label-printing equipment for small runs (see page 30).

Fetzer’s new package
Fetzer Vineyards of Hopland, Calif., makes more than 500,000 cases, so it’s a big enough outfit to go the flashy route. This spring it announced a deal with a new wine company, Zipz, to package new Fetzer brands Crimson red and Quartz white in a single-serve 187ml wine glass to sell at Major League Baseball stadiums. It is eye-catching because the wine will be in a sealed, sanitary container that serves as both bottle and glass. Retail distribution is scheduled to follow. This is not a strategy for everyone, and we applaud Fetzer for pushing the envelope.

Truett Hurst of Healdsburg, Calif., is a much smaller and less well-known winery than Fetzer, but it appears to be using dramatic packaging as a catalyst for growth. The executives of Truett Hurst, which coincidentally include Paul Dolan, a former Fetzer president, announced just before we went to press that Truett Hurst has filed for an initial public offering. The IPO probably does not signal that the company wants to stay smallish.

Truett Hurst’s planned packaging innovations include:

• Evocative wine wraps: The company states that it has developed, produced and sold one of the world’s first “wine wrap ” packaging concepts to Safeway stores.

• The world’s first paper bottle: Truett Hurst says it entered into a seven-year exclusive agreement with the producer of possibly the first-ever paper wine bottle.

• Proprietary square bottle: The company has designed a square-shaped glass bottle and created a brand that it says will “own” this concept.

Until now Truett Hurst has been making $17 to $50 wines mostly from the Russian River and Dry Creek Valley AVAs in Sonoma County, Calif., and selling them 95% direct to consumer. We don’t know if the company wants to keep those price points while it wows consumers with innovative packaging. But if they do, we say more power to them.

Over the years a few wineries have succeeded at combining colorful or edgy packaging with high-quality wines like Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, Calif. But too few have tried, in our view. All wineries will potentially benefit from those on the leading edge who teach consumers that wine can come in all shapes, sizes and materials—and still taste great.

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