May 2008 Issue of Wines & Vines
MAKING IT REAL
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN WORKING WITH A LABEL DESIGNER
Within two years of Evolution's release, the Dundee, Ore.-based winery was threatened with a trademark lawsuit by a Vermont brewery making a No. 9 ale, and rather than become entangled in a prolonged legal dispute, it simplified the label's name to the single word, "Evolution." The winemaker has stuck with it ever since, tinkering only slightly with the look over the years.
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The $17 bottle, which features bold block lettering and the cheeky, four-part mantra "Chill. Pour. Sip. Chill." debuted with a total production of 2,700 cases. It is now distributed around the world, with annual production reaching 57,000 cases, made from the same nine varieties of grapes grown in California, Washington and Oregon--and, arguably, a label that has been seared into consumers' brains.
"You want to tweak, but you don't want to make a major change unless there's something dramatic that you want to say," said winery president Sokol Blosser, who realized early on that Evolution's significance derived from its compatibility with food, not its vintage or appellation, traits that figure prominently into the marketing of the Pinot Noirs for which her winery is known. "And then it's important to realize the marketing it's going to take to get it out before the public."
Personal touch on the label
An ability to withstand the vagaries of the market during the passage of time factored into Kluge Estate Winery & Vineyard's deliberations about the packaging for its New World Red, a Bordeaux-style blend made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot first made in 2001 and released in 2003.
Initially Patricia Kluge, founder and chairwoman of the Charlottesville, Va., winery, was reluctant to go to market with the $40 bottle adorned with a diminutive, terra cotta-colored cameo portrait of Kluge herself. But positive feedback from her inner circle--and the cameo's palpable reference to an earlier age, when Thomas Jefferson's Monticello vineyards were planted in the red earth of Carter's Mountain, not far from the Kluge vineyards--persuaded her to choose it.
"You have to think about something that's attractive and somewhat timeless, because you want it to look good and be remembered," said Kristin Moses Murray, director of public relations and marketing at Kluge Estate.
To capture the nuances of the limited production of Cru, fortified and aged in Jack Daniel's barrels, she conceived a minimalist look predicated on a silk-screen application process.
"Silk-screening is the slippery slope," said Reinhardt, who remembers receiving a phone call from the printer in the middle of the job saying, "We can't do that purple."
"You can't do that purple?" she replied. "But it's the color of the winery." After several adjustments, they arrived at the desired hue.
"Purple is one of those silk-screening no-no's," Reinhardt said, citing the difficulty of achieving, in chemical terms, the red that would yield a violet color and the heat process required to seal it.
The bottle features a postage stamp-sized label that reads only "Cru" in crisp capital letters; below it, additional text is silk-screened directly onto the bottle, which retails for about $28.
In a typical label design commission, which tends to last about six months,
Reinhardt develops five or six concepts and tests them with consumers, first against each other and then against a competitive set of other wines in the price category. "You have to make sure it has that grab factor," she said.
"With an $8 bottle, 60% of the time, if the consumer puts the bottle in the basket they will purchase it," she said. "Above $15, the customer picks it up, puts it down, picks it up again. They're scrutinizing."
According to Reinhardt, when a client changes creative direction in the middle of the process, he incurs additional charges for creative services. In that instance, she typically draws up a fresh contract to address the new scope of work.
"If they began by talking about the red flowers in the vineyard and then switch thei r focus to the little speckled goat in the vineyard, technically they should be paying the creative fee again," she said.
Although it depends on the scope of the project, Reinhardt estimates that the design of a single new label can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000, excluding printing and focus groups.
"Half of it is gut," Reinhardt said. She has just completed the first round of label concepts for Kluge's Albemarle line.
When Sasha Match and Randy Sloan were seeking a label for their St. Helena, Calif.-based brand, Match, they sought the expertise of start-up winery consultant Cary Gott. With the help of a graphic designer, they plowed through at least 15 label ideas referencing various connotations of the word "match."
But it was the producers' son who ultimately inspired the motif that appears on the winery's label: Out in the vineyard one day, the boy caught sight of a butterfly that had wandered among mating dragonflies, and mused on what might come of the cross-breed union of a butterfly and a dragonfly. Thus, the name of the vineyard, Butterdragon Hill, and the design of the label--which features the silhouette of a dragonfly wing--were born.
"The stuff that's off-base is usually where you end up," said Gott, Match's winemaker, who estimates that smaller wineries can usually obtain two workable label concepts for about $5,000, provided they hire a designer well-versed in the limitations posed by the wine label printing process.
"You don't need a focus group to say 'Yuck' or 'Yum,'" Gott said. (Depending on how elaborate they are, focus groups range in price from about $50,000 to $200,000). The real test, he said, is leaving the prototype bottle on the kitchen table before you go to bed and then waking up and gauging your reaction.
Larry Mawby of L. Mawby Vineyards in Suttons Bay on Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula, would agree. The maker of traditional and charmat-method sparkling wines said his focus group consists of himself, his wife and "anyone else who happens to be dropping by the winery that day."
With an annual production of 8,000 cases of 12 different wines, Mawby has become an expert at operating a thermal transfer printer that he purchased for about $2,500, including software. After paying between $2,000 and $4,000 to his label designer in nearby Traverse City, he prints all of his own labels, including batch and serial numbers on each--a component he says consumers appreciate.
"A big printer could never do a run of 300 that cheaply," he said. His wines, marketed under names like Fizz, Sex and Wet, sell for between $13 and $15 per bottle.
No more critters
Down Under, Barbara Harkness, the self-named top dog of the Adelaide, Australia-based Just Add Wine, is hoping her new one-stop shop for wine packaging gains as much traction in the U.S. as it has in her homeland, where the makers of Yellow Tail selected their label from her portfolio.
The entrepreneurial artist, who now pluckily enforces a "No Critters" policy after being asked, on the heels of the 12 million-case retail juggernaut's success, to reinvent the kangaroo some "50,000 times," offers wine producers naming, labeling and packaging services for as little as US$20,000 as part of her Shelf Brand portfolio, which furnishes concepts ready-made for the U.S., Chilean, Argentine, Australian and New Zealand markets.
The client usually provides a design brief electronically, and then her team of four goes to work, sometimes wrapping up a concept within six weeks. For a $1,000 deposit, clients are given 30 days to test a prototype.
"Labels are extremely important," said Tony Coturri, the co-founder and winemaker of Coturri Winery who, in 1999, transformed a 1943 oil portrait of his father at age 26 into a wine label for his Founder's Series. Part tribute to his dad, who died in 1997, and part a healing exercise for himself, Coturri's handiwork now adorns the best batch of each varietal in each vintage and retails for between $25 and $45.
"I've always said to go with your name rather than some gravelly this or gravelly that," he said. "Your name says that you're serious about it."
Upon reflection, he added, "Unless you have a lousy name!"
|Do's and don'ts for label design
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