Market Focus

Wine Labels

July 19, 2005

Only the best will do to meet the stringent quality requirements of this growth market.

Recently on Marketplace, a popular business broadcast by Minnesota Public Radio, host David Branccaccio featured a segment titled “Wine Twaddle.” He reported that in a recent study conducted at the University of Bordeaux, France, 54 expert wine tasters could not tell the difference between a common red table wine and a better bottle.

The study showed that the taste of wine is not in the bottle, but in one’s head. Professor Fredric Brocher took an ordinary bottle of Bordeaux, stuck a fancy label on it, and 40 of the connoisseurs proceeded to describe it as “woody”, “complex”, and “rounded.” Then he took the same bottle, this time masquerading as table wine, and most of the experts switched to “faulty” and “with a sting.”

Professor Brocher said, “The point is that the brain gets more information from the eyes and from color than from mouth, and nose.”

If there was any doubt that the label influences the wine decision, this should erase it. Experts say that most consumers (90 percent) pick a bottle of wine based upon its label. This explains the explosion of creativity in the wine labeling industry. Wineries are scrambling to come up with labels that will stand out above and beyond all others on the store shelves. One way they accomplish this is by switching to pressure sensitive labels from the traditional glue-applied versions. The change to pressure sensitive gives designers a wide scope of flexibility with shape, instead of having to stick with the rectangular look of the glued label.

Anyone who takes a casual stroll down the aisles of a wine store will see the difference. In the past, all wine labels were three-by-four-inch rectangles printed on sheetfed offset equipment, and glue-applied to the bottle. The increasing number of wineries using pressure sensitive labels are easy to spot. In most cases the shapes do not conform to the traditional rectangle, featuring instead rotary diecut shapes ranging from the conservative to the unusual. Silver and gold are popular, embossing is big, and use of more color and elaborate graphics is the current trend.

Widmer Wine Cellars Brickstone Label, printed by Brook & Whittle.

Wineries look for perfection
Brook & Whittle, North Branford, CT, made the labels for Brickstone Cellars premium wines. Brickstone Cellars is the new ultra premium brand for Widmer Wine Cellars, a division of Canandaigua Wine Company, Canandaigua, NY. Canandaigua, the second largest US wine company, produces, markets and sells more than 40 popular and premium wine brands.

In keeping with the premium theme, the wine maker, Glenn Curtis, chose to go with a subtle label. The subtle label designs created by Hart Thompson of California use warm colors offset by gold foil stamping. An Adirondack chair on the front label conveys a relaxed and inviting atmosphere, while the back label provides consumers with information about the wine’s characteristics along with suggestions for food pairings.

“Being a division of Constellation Brands Inc., we have the luxury of having so many different brands within our wine division,” says Michael Mettia, Canandaigua’s procurement manager. “Certain brands’ images lend themselves to a film label look, while others are geared more toward pressure sensitive paper. It’s really driven by what the designer and the brand manager want to achieve from a package presentation on the shelf.”

In case of Brickstone Cellars, winemaker Glen Curtis had a lot to say about the label and the entire presentation. Brickstone Cellars is classified as a boutique wine within the Canandaigua company, and therefore called for a very high end package. Mettia says, “Our wine division is such a large company that we have marketing brand managers who are responsible for the look of the package. The wine maker really does not have much of a part in the decision on how the package looks. However, with Brookstone Cellars, it was Glen who had a great impact on how the label looked, because again, that’s one of our smaller, niche wines. Glen sat with the designer and wanted to get a feel for what he wanted that label to convey to the consumer.

“Then we get involved from a buying standpoint. We take a look at the label, and determine who in our vendor or supplier base can best print this label to convey the image. What you’ll find sometimes is that the designers can create beautiful designs, but they aren’t competitive from a price standpoint when you go to produce them, or there just isn’t the capability in the printing world to print what they’ve designed. We need to make the label printable, look well, but also be effective from a cost standpoint, and effective from an operations standpoint, meaning able to apply to the bottle consistently.”

When choosing a converter, Mettia says, ‘We’re looking for their ability to print, their ability to deliver on time, and their ability to be competitive. We’re also very conscious of quality initiatives they have within their organization, to continue to print a quality label, and what kind of money they’re spending on research and development. We feel that it’s a very important part of our decision to be associated with suppliers who are re-investing in their business, and seeing the trends that are coming, so that when we want to have a label printed, they’re current with the technology.”

And for their Widmer Wine Cellars label they chose Brook & Whittle. “Widmer Wine Cellars wanted a subtle look for their label,” says Brook & Whittle President Steve Stewart. “Their logo is representative of their winery. They wanted a material that would hold up in water, they wanted a foil, and then they wanted the whole thing matted out. It wasn’t a high gloss look, it was a subtle look.”

Corrales Winery chose one label with side panels.

When it came time to choose a label or look for their wine, the people at Corrales Winery in Corrales, NM, experimented upon each other. “We lined up 100 empty bottles of wine around the house then one of us would leave the room,” recalls Keith Johnstone, owner and winemaker. “The other person would move the bottles around, and when the first person came back into the room they would have to say which label caught their eye first. We did this with our friends and family. We wanted something that would catch the eye, but also, since we’re in New Mexico, we wanted something that was Western in flavor and kind of regional, if at all possible.

“You’d think it would be an easy process, but it took us 18 months to get to where we wanted to be. Today, we have a sky blue label with a white buffalo on it. And it’s very striking. The best think about our label — and this is what we were hoping for — is that people see the buffalo and recognize us immediately. They don’t even need to see the name of the winery anymore. They know that the buffalo represents us.”

Milagro Vineyards, also in Corrales, had a different approach to picking a label. “Winemaking started out as a fun thing for us, and when it came time for us to make a label to enter our wine in competition, we had no clue how to do it, or what other people did,” says owner Mitzi Hobson. “In addition to wines, we also take in pot belly pigs that are orphans, and we had an oil painting of a pig, so as a whimsical thing, and because people associate our property with pigs as well as grapes, we decided to turn our oil painting into our label. The label has worked pretty well for us. The winery is on our property, we grow the grapes here, the pigs are here, and everybody associates it all together. In fact, we’re in the process of getting the pig trademarked,” says Hobson. Wilber, the pig on the label, is in a tuxedo, wearing a monocle, and holding a wine glass.

Flyin’ Saucer label by Madison Vineyards.

Bill Madison, yet another New Mexican, knows first hand how a wine label works on the consumer. The owner of Madison Vineyards in El Barranco asked Kathleen O’Neill, an artist friend, to produce the image of a space alien walking with a glass of wine, inspired by what is believed to have been a UFO crash north of Roswell, NM, in 1947. “It’s called ‘Flyin’ Saucer’,” says Madison. “It’s red and yellow and it’s really tacky. My wife said, ‘This is the tackiest thing I’ve ever seen, you can’t do that,’ and I said, ‘Well, it’s just for fun.’ I took it to Roswell, and sold 100 bottles the first day. What it has taught me is that labeling is very, very important.”

Rob Griffin, co-owner and winemaker of Barnard Griffin, Richland, WA, explains how they picked their first label. “We worked with somebody with a great sensitivity to design, Gary White. The designer deals with the needs, wants and wishes of the owners, and then the need for competent design in the marketplace. I wanted something colorful and abstract, visible and kind of artistic and a little bit edgy. My wife wanted something floral, but also visible — we decided on the tulip image because, it’s very Northwest — there are actually a lot of commercial tulips grown in the region — we both have a lot of affinity for them, and tulips do not bring any aroma to the picture, which could be quite negative in the context of wine.

“The image we chose was one out of 100 that Gary and I put together. Right from the beginning we wanted a matte background with a high gloss on the image, so it has almost a transparent three-dimensional feel, and we chose a linen finish for the paper, because that gave it a sense of feel and dimension that it wouldn’t have on flat stock.”

Barnard Griffin label printed by Adams Labels.

During the early years, Barnard Griffin used glue-applied labels printed on offset presses. Three years ago they switched to pressure sensitive. Although the pressure sensitive labels cost more per unit, Griffin was happy about not having to worry about glueing or the extensive clean up associated with glue-applied machinery.

Today, Adams Label & Tag in Surrey, BC, prints the labels for Barnard Griffin. “They were able to make the transition from waterless offset to flexography,” says Griffin. “They were able to improve the appearance and cut the price by 50 percent, which in my 20-some years in the industry I’ve never seen happen, not with labels, not with corks, not with bottles, not with anything. It’s very rare that you can get better quality and cut your price in half at the same time. I’m in debt to their mastery and the particular technology they work with.

“I had worked with another flexo printer before Adams Label, and most of the time they got it 90 percent right but it was never perfect. Part of the problem was understanding the kind of paper that was needed. They couldn’t reproduce the linen finish, which was a big part of our image. We could either have a good image and no linen or have the linen but bad image. Either way wasn’t acceptable to me. I wasn’t going to accept what to me was a lessening of the product. However, Adams Label was able to do both and actually improve the appearance with brighter, more vivid colors, with a better sense of a high gloss finish on the photo image and a soft, matte image on the rest of it,” says Griffin.

Trevor Maunder, general manager of Adams Label & Tag, says wineries want to talk to consumers through their labels. “Usually there is a great deal of emotional attachment to the label because the owners want to convey a message to consumers associated with the effort they put into their wine making,” says Maunder. The Barnard Griffin label won a Bronze Medal in the 2000 FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards.

Dave Wickham, owner of Tularosa Vineyards, Tularosa, NM, says one of the most important things while creating a label is making sure to pick a logo that you like and that you can stick with. “You don’t want to change your look too drastically because then your customers won’t be able to identify you as easily,” he says. “It is important to create brand recognition and loyalty.” Wickham contends that his label has evolved over time as well, but he stuck with the same image. “Our logo is associated with the name of our village, Tularosa. People associate Tularosa with roses even though that’s not technically correct. Originally, we had a big rose on the label, but later we wanted to subdue that and make it a bit more upscale looking. We went with an artist who made the first two letters of the words ‘Tularosa’ and ‘Vineyards’ with an entwined rose that went around them. Then we wanted to make it a bit more eye-catching, so we decided to change the gold ink used for the lettering to foil. Foil reflects a little bit of light. It is a little more eye-catching off the shelf,” says Wickham.

Tularosa Vineyards’ label features a rose theme. Award winning Gruet sparkling wine.

Gruet Winery in Albuquerque, NM, is known for its sparkling wines. In fact, Gruet Brut, was recently judged best among 13 sparkling wines in a Chicago Tribune survey. The winery is also credited with producing the best champagne in the United States, according to The New Yorker magazine. Laurent Gruet, co-owner and winemaker, says the most important thing he looks for in his labels is for the winery’s name to be prominent. “I’m looking for something attractive, and at the same time something classic. But most important I want the name to be really legible from afar, because I think it’s very important for people to be able to recognize your wine and read it from a distance especially when they go to a liquor store. I want to make it easier for the customer to find my wine,” says Gruet.

Most winemakers agree that the label is representative of themselves. “You work hard to make a good wine so you want the label to be nice. Not too flashy. If you have a good wine and an ugly label, it is much harder to sell. In a liquor store there are 300 different packages, so for people who don’t know your wine, the label is their first impression. One of our first labels was a bit ugly so we changed that label, and it has been only three months since the change but we already see differences in sales,” says Gruet.

Stixon Labels, in Albuquerque, is the printer for all of the wineries in New Mexico. According to President Beverly Chavez, “My customers usually come to me with the design already in hand, and its my job to match it exactly on the press.” That’s what wineries look for when they search for a printer: someone to match their design on the press. For example, Keith Johnstone of Corrales Winery says, “We were very particular about the sky blue we picked for our label. If the blue is too light then we didn’t get the contrast we wanted between the blue and the white of the buffalo. If it was too dark then it very quickly got to be indistinguishable from black, and that was a really ugly label for us.”

In choosing Stixon to print his labels, Laurent Gruet says quality of printing was very important. “I wanted someone who pays attention to detail. Every detail of our logo has to be perfect.”

Award winning Gruet sparkling wine label from Gruet Winery. Barcode bottle by Madison Vineyards.

Florent Lescombes, owner of New Mexico Wineries, Deming, NM, has a different approach to choosing labels for his bottles. He says, “It depends on the market you’re going after. We make about 200 different wines. If we’re marketing to tasting rooms, then we try to make a better package, with a nice bottle and a better label. If it’s going to a grocery store, then we go with a more basic label.” In fact, on his lower end bottles, Lescombes has just a barcode label.

More printers are entering the wine labeling arena every day. There are waterless offset printers as well as flexographers. Regardless of the type of label or its design, flexo converters agree that they are seeing a continuous trend toward pressure sensitive labels. David Hoydal, art director at CALabel, San Luis Obispo, CA, says, “From what our sales people are seeing, it’s gone from 30 percent pressure sensitive back about five years ago to now about 70 percent or more pressure sensitive — probably the biggest change in the industry over the past five years.” This has to do with a number of factors, says Hoydal. “A lot of the smaller wineries that have been popping up all over the place don’t want to invest in any kind of glue-applied labeling equipment; they’re extremely expensive and take a long time to manufacture. If smaller wineries don’t have bottling lines in house, they’re bring somebody from outside, the mobile bottling lines, and these mobile bottling lines now come exclusively with pressure sensitive labeling equipment.”

As in most industries, trends come and go in the wine business. “These days we are seeing a lot of metalized stock to avoid the cost of foil stamping,” Hoydal says. “We’re also seeing a lot more use of color, specialty colors and spot colors. We’re seeing a lot more multicolor, six- to eight-color jobs. It’s not uncommon to see an eight-color flexo press but it is more uncommon to see that on an offset press. It is still cost-effective for flexo to be up to 11 or 12 colors, which enables the graphic designer to be able to bring in a lot more spot colors, and special colors to the job. UV metallic inks have great opacity right now, so that’s become a more feasible way of presenting gold on a label without having to go to foil stamping, or even a metalized substrate.”

Another trend with the larger wineries is the use of a pressure sensitive label for the launch of a product, because pressure sensitive is easier to produce. Bottles with PS labels can be in stores within a week; not so with glue-applied. If the wine doesn’t take off, they can redesign, which sometimes can do wonders for sales. “Once it catches on, then they might change over to glue-applied, because if you’re producing large volumes, million and above mark for number of labels, it is more cost effective to go with glue applied” says, Hoydal.

Gil Dulong, plant manager at CALabel, says paper is the preferred substrate for wine labels. “The majority is paper. Coated and uncoated stocks are typically used in the wine industry. There is also use of film products, although you don’t see it as much,” says Dulong. Hoydal confirms: “Film stock is being used more on smaller bottles, such as those you see on airplanes.” Randy Ramos, sales representative in Wine Country for CALabel, says the trend for labels in the wine industry is continually changing. Today’s trend is toward uncoated paper substrates. “Film was the last trend. The previous trend was the glossy coated look. Before that it was the uncoated look, and now it’s going back to the uncoated look again. Once that gets saturated, it will change again. The one thing about wine labels is that the trends change rapidly — when the market gets over-saturated with the same look, everyone scrambles to get a different look,” says Ramos.

“What is also driving the market from the label side is that a lot of wineries want to dress their labels up to make their labels look fancier—meaning more color, more embossing, multiple varnishes and more hot foil stamping, even texturing the stock after they’ve printed it,” says Bob Yates, Western US sales manager for Gallus, the Swiss press manufacturer. “With this in mind, you end up in an inline solution where you can do all that in one pass, where in the sheetfed offset side you have to do these stages separately. Also, when you look at the cost structure depending on the run size it’s pretty cost-effective to do them on pressure sensitive material, considering waste reduction, less handling, less floor space and less set-up time involved with far fewer people required."

Dave Pancoast, sales manager of Dana Labels Inc., Beaverton, OR, says, “We do see a lot of foil stamping and a lot of embossing , and a lot of combination printing. We see a lot more combination foil embossing with multi-layered or sculptured embossing, than in any industry we’ve serviced.”

Pancoast also credits Dana Labels with pioneering the the pressure sensitive estate textured paper, which he says has turned out to be a staple of the pressure sensitive wine label industry. Use of pressure sensitive labels also allows companies to be more creative with their labels. “The majority of our customers split the front and back labels, in other words print one front label and one back label. A pretty good number of them might also split the front label. The front label maybe more than just a front panel. It may be a front label with a strip below or a medallion over the top,” says Pancoast.

Jay Tapp, president of TAPP Technologies Inc., Langley, BC, says, “Foil and embossing have been going on for a long time. We only print wine labels, and we foil stamp about 85 percent of them, and emboss about 70 percent. Stock wise, we mostly use paper — 80 to 90 percent paper; film is used for lower price-point wines. Film has a lot of drawbacks, and the connotation of lower quality, sort of beer-label, water-bottle look. But people try it for certain market launches, and some of it has been successful. Wine labels are all about high, high quality and tactile feel and an expression of luxury, and I’m not sure you can achieve that with film. So paper will be dominant in the future as well.”

Although a lot of pressure sensitive labels are printed flexo, TAPP Technologies uses only offset. Tapp says, “Designers and wineries want the highest possible quality of graphic reproduction they can get. They’re quite aware that offset offers much higher graphic resolution than flexo and so offset is definitely preferred. If you look at the trend toward the companies that focus on the wine industry, they would all be offset printers. There are a couple flexo players there, but they tend to operate in specific niches.”

Although price is always a factor in any industry, Beverly Chavez of Stixon Labels says “Price is not as much an issue with a wine label as with a salsa label, because wine is a high end product. Of course owners want a good price, but it’s usually not a big issue, because they can just build it into the cost of the bottle of wine.”

DNA coded label by Collotype Labels

Wine fraud
Collotype Labels, headquartered in Australia, with a US base in Napa, CA, prints only wine and spirits labels. David Maher, president and part owner, says their business has grown 40 percent in pressure sensitive labels in one year compared with zero percent in glue-applied.

In addition to the increase in pressure sensitive labels, Maher says they are also getting increased inquires about “SmartMark,” a method of DNA coding into product labels for brand security.

Recently, Collotype and BRL Hardy Wine Co. Ltd., also of Australia, co-developed a system that tags tamper-proof neck labels with DNA from the 100-year-old vines used to make the wine, BRL Hardy’s Eileen Hardy Shiraz. Maher says, “It’s a process where our company takes DNA from a donor, either from a vine which is in the label we just produced, or it can be from the grapes, or it can even be from the wine maker himself, and mix it in with a varnish that we place on the label. The DNA cannot be detected unless you take the bottle to a recognized laboratory where they can test it and tell you if the label is a legitimate product or not.”

He explains that premium wineries see a need for this process because there is quite a bit of counterfeiting going on in the wine industry. “It is really only geared at very high end wines. It’s not a cheap process. It’s mainly the high end wines which will be counterfeited anyway, No one’s going to want to counterfeit a low end wine.”

Suppliers to the wine labeling industry offer a different perspective on the trends in the industry.

Maria Miller, market development manager for wine labels, North America, based in CA, for Avery Dennison Fasson N.A., Painesville, OH, says, “One of the biggest trends for wineries is consolidation. We’ve seen quite a few large wineries get purchased by foreign conglomerates. We’ve also seen an explosion in materials. Five or six years ago, wineries were very happy with a sparse selection of materials, and now we launch between five to 10 new face stock materials every year, and we can still barely keep up with the explosion in range of materials that wineries are looking for, trying to differentiate themselves on the shelf. Recently, everyone is looking for brighter, whiter, papers that are more opaque and thicker, richer looking. Paper mills have caught on to this as well, so, we’ve seen a lot of new and interesting bright white papers come on to the marketplace.”

Beaulieu Vineyards Label on Avery Dennison stock. Wine Find feature from Collotype Labels: Easy-to- remember peel off panel.
Miller says the most important thing for wineries is that the paper or film that they use is consistent with the image they’re trying to project. “That makes the label, and therefore the wine, more recognizable and memorable to the consumer. It used to be that people would be happy that their wine would be recognized or quickly jump out at consumers on the shelf, but now, not only does the label have to do that, but it also has to be memorable, so that the next time the consumer goes to buy a wine, they can remember what it was that they drank the last time and find it quickly.”

Collotype Labels has made it easy for consumers to remember the wine they just drank. They have come up with “Wine Find” which is a tear-off reminder panel built in to the back label. Maher says, “The tear off panel could be built into any paper stock label, and its an excellent tool for consumers to remember the wine for next time.”

Also popular these days is texture, and according to Miller premium uncoated papers work well to produce a felt feel. She says, “We’ve seen felt texture, but it’s not actually felt, it’s just a method of embossing the paper at the paper mill. This has been very popular last year or two.”

Hans Gut, chief operating officer, Form Flo Equipment Manufacturers, Glendale, AZ says, “Dimension, sheen, texture and visual interest can also be supplied with web thermography.” Gut explains that thermography, or “raised printing,” has recently been adopted to embellish labels for packaging and bottles. “Thermography is a cost effective alternative to embossing and foil stamping and various other applications,” says Gut.

As for film, it seems to be more popular with sparkling wines and white wines. “We’ve seen people looking to use white and metalized films for their ice bucket performance and resistance to prolonged exposure to wetness.” says Miller.

Rick Harris, sales and marketing manager, Packaging Business Team, FLEXcon, Spencer, MA, says that in addition to the aesthetic abilities of pressure sensitive, one reason most companies have switched to pressure sensitive is the clean up and other problems associated with wet glue or glue-applied labels. He says, “With pressure sensitive labeling, there is no mess. The labeling equipment can be started and stopped at will and there is no clean-up involved.” Wineries also can enjoy a window of opportunity in correcting mistakes with pressure sensitive film labels. “With reworkable pressure sensitive adhesives, converters are able to stop the press, take off a label and reapply it properly, reducing waste and ensuring quality. Pressure sensitive adhesives also bond and will not haze up due to the condensation levels that are prevalent in wine labeling.”

Despite the ease of pressure sensitive labeling, some wineries still prefer to stick with glue application machinery. Miller says, “The biggest reason why people still use glue-applied labels is because they already have the equipment. For them to switch to pressure sensitive they would have to make a capital investment to buy different equipment. If wineries are looking to buy new equipment anyway, they usually do change over to pressure sensitive. But otherwise, they stick with their existing equipment.

Harris confirms, “Companies with shorter runs and smaller volume may not have a need to switch over from glue-applied labels to pressure sensitive. The equipment they already have in place is most likely suitable for the amount of labeling they produce.”

What’s ahead
Wineries, converters and suppliers alike, agree that the wine labeling industry is driven by market design. The next trend will be determined by the designers who scramble to find a “different” look.

Maria Miller says the search will continue for new materials that help consumers easily find and remember wines. “Anything that will reach out to wineries, make their product more memorable, stand out more, and easy to find. Wineries are also going to look for consolidated suppliers to meet their needs internationally,” says Miller.

Trevor Maunder of Adams Label agrees that the biggest trend of the future will be consolidation. He says, “A lot of these wineries are going to be bought and become larger. That has already begun. This trend will move into our area, where you’re going to see further consolidation in the pressure sensitive and flexo side in order to satisfy these larger requirements.”

“Design of labels might be getting shorter as more competition comes in from overseas,” says David Maher of Collotype. “Also, designs will change quicker. Design life might just be 18 months to a maximum of two years.”

Regardless of what the next new trend will be, the classic look of simple wine labels will never go away. David Hoydal of CALabel says, “I think there is something to be said about an understated, under-designed label that doesn’t have an enormous amount of graphics. They tend to be very elegant and classic. This look is still is popular, especially in the high-end market. There is a group of high core traditionalists in this industry who will stick with their simple but classy labels. The radicals are the new guys, who are coming in and trying to shake things up and be different. They try to throw in all sorts of graphics trying to grab attention at all levels of marketing. They are new and need to set themselves apart from the guys who have been there a long time. So, you’ll see some eccentric or amusing stuff to get attention.”

The labels might get the customer’s initial attention at the point of sales, but when all is said and done, the winery still needs to produce a quality product in order to keep the customers coming back.