January 2018 Issue of Wines & Vines

Going Pro(totype)

What is this potential game changer for wine packaging?

by Jane Firstenfeld

Trade shows provide a super source for greeting old friends, meeting new ones and exposure to new vendors and technology. The Wines & Vines Packaging Conference in August introduced us to a novel concept: prototyping for packaging.

Prototyping is so new that even many seasoned designers have yet to add it to their portfolios. David Hanson-Jerrard, managing partner of 4Parts Design in Sausalito, Calif., is working with a few clients to try it out, but none of the projects are complete. 

“It could be a game changer, but it’s still too new to tell. It could save a lot in terms of printing/packaging,” he said. He predicted that in as quickly as six months, prototyping could become common practice.

So what exactly is prototyping? It really depends on who you ask and what you need.

In your hand 
On the Sonoma County side of Los Carneros, Cline Cellars has employed prototyping on several packaging projects, most recently its 2015 Lodi Zinfandel. The new package, priced in the $10-per-bottle range, presents as a much more expensive wine. It shipped in July and started hitting shelves in November: Sales shot up 12% over the previous vintage, according to Christine Lilienthal, director of marketing for Cline and its sister winery, Jacuzzi. 

The Lodi Zin represents a healthy chunk of Cline’s national and international sales: 70,000 cases of approximately 250,000 cases total annual production.

Getting the new look right was a big deal—and a big investment. Consequently, Cline opted for what Affinity Creative Group of Vallejo, Calif., calls a “live comp”: an actual model of the bottle, with images that can also be used for developing collateral marketing materials and videos. Depending on the amount of work involved, that process can cost between $2,500 and $5,000, according to Lilienthal. 

“It’s good insurance,” she said, averting costly and time-consuming problems down the line, when bottle and label meet in real time on the bottling line. To create the live comp prototype, the winery provided a filled bottle with cork stopper; Affinity took it from there.

As with all aspects of packaging, the process took some time. “We went through a number of rounds, starting with a broad representation on flat boards,” Lilienthal recalled. The process then moved the second step, 3D images, and then finally the live comp. The progression is important to marketing and production teams because, she noted, many people can’t envision 3D concepts from flat representations.

The live comp process brings clients as close as possible to the finished product, using rubber embossing and debossing and transfers to metal label substrates. It’s something anyone can see, feel and believe in. 

Affinity’s Ed Rice explained the process typically starts with a flat design, then the design firm provides an initial creative range. The client picks two or three designs to refine, and Affinity presents enhancement and visualization through a computer program. Clients may finalize the process after seeing 3D representations of the work, or decide to go for the live comp.

Lilienthal revealed that Cline is currently working on a redesign for another package. “Live comp prototyping helps on so many points, from production to marketing and sales,” she said.

Once the final design is verified, label printing for Cline bids out in a competitive process.

Sample some software
When we chatted with Washington state designer Sara Nelson of Sara Nelson Design at W&V Pack, she commented that 3D rendering is “very cool, but very expensive.” 

Heath Luetkens, director of technical innovation for Creative Edge Software in Minneapolis, Minn., gave Nelson a sample 3D visual comp created on his company’s IC3D application (photo on page 118). It happened fast—only a few days after Nelson provided her elaborate 2D design for Struggle Wine from 2,000-case Palencia Wine Co. of Walla Walla, Wash.

Creative Edge marketing executive Alexandra Specht acknowledged that the wine market is new to the company, although it has extensive experience with spirits and other beverages. “Brand owners need to innovate at a quicker speed, with real-time design,” she said.

The 3D comps do not provide physical models of the package but use a proprietary version of Adobe Illustrator that can change glass color, embossing, varnish and other tactile elements. Clients can preview the examples before production happens, even producing product shots for publication prior to wine release.

Specht commented: “There’s no reason the wine business cannot be creative. Wineries can distinguish their bottles within their class.”

Luetkens added that anyone can use the application with a one-day training, and it helps marketers to envision their brands on retail shelves, alongside their direct competition. 

The 3D models display the package from 360º, rotating the bottle from front to back and top to bottom. Special elements can be included in the images, including frosted glass, label embossing, debossing and metal cartouches.

A solo designer comfortable with Adobe Illustrator can be trained to use the app in just one day. At $12,500, it is pricey but can bring added finesse and what is needed to render a finer image of a proposed package. Wineries with in-house design departments can bring the process home and under their control and limiting costs.

Nelson loved her sample and hopes to take advantage of a free, one-month trial of the software next spring, after the winter spate of trade shows.

Art, science or both
A venerable Toronto design/print company just opened a satellite office in Napa, Calif., slightly delayed by the wildfires. According to ASL Print FX: Shoppers never see more than 33% of the brands on the shelf, but 80% of the time, if they pick it up, they will buy.

The company uses proprietary HDFX printing techniques to make wine and spirits decoration stand out.

Travis Pollard, vice president and general manager of the Napa office, said that ASL can create simulated wine labels without the cost of setting up a printing press, using technology that has been proven with Canadian wineries ranging from 5,000 to several million cases. Within six to eight months, ASL will begin printing operations in Napa, he said, adding that it’s now exploring “options other than labels.”

Label options include die-cuts, foil and high varnish, Pollard said. ASL can run off 12 to 50 examples to ensure they actually fit the glass, and the cost is relatively modest: Depending on the work up front, it’s an average of $250-$300 per prototype.

ASL has worked with Andrew Peller and Mission Hills in Canada, and its Napa clients, including Folio and Rutherford Ranch, requested a local presence. 

Pollard is a Northern California local and remains a partner in 4Parts Design with Hanson-Jerrard. Previously he worked with major printers including Tapp and Paragon. He is especially proud of ASL’s new office, much of which is devoted to a “Creative Center.” There, designers, marketing and branding managers and fine artists can conduct meetings in a well-equipped workgroup area and conference room. 

“We feel it will add to our business portfolio,” Pollard said. “Our No. 1 goal is to be a trusted partner with wineries, designers and suppliers.” 

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