If you’ve ever bought a wine based solely on its label, you’re not alone. Studies show consumers do indeed react to label styles and colors. Winemakers have designed some unique labels to distinguish their bottles in time for the gift-giving season.
More than once, friends have told me they chose a bottle of wine because the label featured a cute animal or other creature on the label.
Even serious oenophiles have succumbed to a catchy label. One of my favorite wines became Writer’s Block zinfandel from Steele Wines after a particularly acute case of the dreaded affliction set in near deadline. The full-color portrait of Shakespeare on the label convinced me to give it a try.
Fortunately, the wine was excellent and turned out to be an appropriate Christmas gift for editors that year.
“Absolutely people buy wines based on a label,” agrees Joyce Huey, owner of Two Old Hags Wine Shoppe in Leesburg. “That’s the reason I buy some wines. If I think I can sell a wine in the store because the label looks cool, I’ll stock it.”
An example is Freak Show, a California cabernet, which Huey says “makes people stop and look.” Another is Machete, a California blend of petite sirah, syrah, and grenache bottled with 12 different labels.
The importance of label design is not lost on winemakers. The design can make or break a new wine’s success when it is introduced to the market. A 2009 Australian study showed consumers often judge a wine’s quality by its label. Labels also play a primary role in purchasing decisions by customers, especially those who may buy the wine as a gift.
“People don’t realize just how hard it is to come up with a new brand name,” says Mark Dolin, Rutherford Wine Company’s marketing director and a self-taught artist who designed the 2014 winning label for the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition label sweepstakes.
Dolin used a ladybug theme for Predator Old Vine zinfandel because the consumer-friendly insect is an important part of maintaining Rutherford’s vineyards, which are all farmed sustainably. The artwork was silkscreened and then fired onto the bottle. The name, “Predator,” was written in 24-karat gold, a remarkable feature, considering the bottle sells for about $24.
“I read where the Mercury Head dime is actually worth $1.35,” she says.
Huey also believes the trend for wine labels is becoming more minimalist with just a few words or the brand name on the front label.
One example her shop carries is Saldo, a ruby red zinfandel from northern California. The word “saldo” has various meanings in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. In Spanish, it mainly refers to “balance on hand,” but is sometimes interpreted as “from here and there.” Both translations are apt descriptions for the wine, which is a blend of grapes from several vineyards.
It does help to know how to read a wine label so you know what you’re getting or giving during the holiday season. The key questions you should ask when buying a bottle are:
1) what grapes were used; 2) where was it made; 3) who made it; and 4) the vintage, or when was it made. This information is usually found on the front label, except on those minimalist designs where you will need to check the tiny print on the back of the bottle.