Labels sell wine. Unless you’re a true wine connoisseur – or snob – chances are that when you’re on the prowl for a bottle of wine, the ones that you consider and pick up for further inspection are the ones that have an interesting or eye-catching label.
Wine labeling stands apart from other label markets. An internet search for “wine labels” will return countless websites, among them blogs, “best of” lists, wine label-specific artists and designers, and even a dedicated Wikipedia page. And this is all before you get to learning about the actual printing of the labels themselves – though for wineries, it’s hardly an afterthought.
AWA Alexander Watson Associates estimates the global market for wine labels in 2009 at 575 million square meters (nearly 6.2 billion square feet), with an annual growth rate to 2013 forecast as between 3 and 4 percent, depending upon production and consumption patterns. “The global market share enjoyed by the pressure sensitive label formats continues to increase from the 55 percent share recorded in 2009. Glue applied label formats have lost their dominance in the market, and continue to lose share from the 45 percent level reported for 2009,” the firm reports.
Although the number of US wine brands is commonly estimated at around 7,000, the wine industry statistical research firm, Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates, notes that it tracks more than 15,000 wine SKUs in accruing data. Needless to say, in a marketplace with such fierce competition, having a first-rate label when launching a brand is absolutely critical.
With demand soaring for creative and often complex graphics and labels, the pressure sensitive industry became a natural fit for wine. “The wine industry has embraced pressure sensitive labeling due to the operational benefits and graphic capabilities of the system,” says Dan Muenzer, VP of marketing for Spear, a label converter headquartered in Mason, OH, USA. “All of the ‘new’ wine markets like South Africa, Australia, and Chile are well in excess of 80 percent PS. Most of the constructions are made of paper facestock, so the consumer really doesn't see the difference with traditional cut and stack labels. Given the high number of SKUs, brands, pack size, etc., PS provides a cleaner technology to change from run to run, while also providing the ability to diecut to the unique shapes desired by the industry today,” Muenzer says.
When discussing wine labels with converters and suppliers, a few topics float to the top. Among these are finishing and label enhancement technology, design, substrate selection, and perhaps most of all – digital printing.
Wine label evolution
Wine labels have really evolved. While those of yesteryear were quite uniform, without much differentiation from one bottle to the next, a stroll through the wine shop today shows vivid colors and pictures adorning labels of all shapes and sizes.
“Years ago, almost all wine labels were produced on coated paper of a similar type, in a limited range of shapes and sizes. And the labeling was fairly standardized,” says Andrew Oransky, director of sales and marketing for Roland DGA, an inkjet printer manufacturer based Irvine, CA, USA. “Today we are seeing a lot more creative design work integrated into wine labels. Over the past 10 to 15 years, the industry has increasingly recognized that the label is an integral part of the product's branding and shelf appeal. So the trend is moving toward more complex designs, more graphical elements, and a much broader range of materials for labels,” he says.
Many think of hot stamping and classic graphic features when they think wine labels, and these applications are still very popular. However, as technology evolves, so too does the means to garner shelf appeal.
A wine label design from Ortega Design Studio
Knopp points out that the use of photography is also on the upswing in the wine market, “with each varietal showcasing a different image/piece presented as a collection or limited edition, which tell a story when merchandized together. Also, the use of simple graphic elements set against a high contrasting background is something we are seeing more of. In many cases, the contrasting background can be accomplished with colored materials, like black paper or through full ink coverage,” he says.
The wine label market today goes hand in hand with digital printing. David Collins, market manager, global digital products – North American wine and spirits at Avery Dennison Fasson Roll North America, says the value proposition for digital printing lies in the cost-effectiveness of the technology to allow for small runs. He says, “It enables a thousand-case winery to have the same high-end graphics of flexo or offset printing that are available to large wineries, so – in a big way – digital is helping to level the playing field for small vintners.”
Telling a story is a big part of the wine makers’ marketing and labeling strategies. One way to do this is to incorporate multiple designs for different bottles of the same wine, a strategy that plays right into the advantages of digital technology.
Banknote Wine Company of Napa Valley, CA, positions itself as a premium brand, and proprietor Pete Nixon wanted a multi-faceted, eye-catching label that would essentially ensure new consumers would be drawn to his wine at retail. “It was vital that the labels not only be different from what the competition was doing, but the labels also had to express the quality of the wine itself,” Nixon says.
A graphic designer by trade, with extensive knowledge of the wine industry, Nixon created a line of 12 graphically complex banknote-themed labels for his wine. However, he was unable to settle on just one design, so he elected to go with all 12. As a result, each bottle in a case of “The Vault” features a different label.
Nixon designed a two-piece prime label. The main banknote on top prominently carries the Banknote Wine Company name, while a strip label at the bottom identifies the brand and bottle serial number. Each banknote design is a reproduction of an actual banknote, and showcases the intricate detail and craftsmanship of the engravings.
Due to the short-run and multiple-piece label concept, and to ensure the fine details of the banknote designs were reproduced to the highest quality, Nixon chose digital offset for printing the labels. He also felt that PS labeling material optimized for digital was best for accomplishing his vision.
The Banknote Wine labels are run on an HP Indigo ws4050 press with a line screen of 230 lpi, and printed CMYK with a double hit of black in the solid areas. The labels are embossed and foil stamped with two foils – black and gold. Embossing and foil stamping are run on an Iwasaki offline finishing press.
“Digital offset printing has the ability to sequentially image on the same roll,” Nixon says. “In addition, each bottle of Banknote Wine is individually numbered. The entire process allows a case of wine to be automatically packed on-line with 12 different label images.”
The Banknote Wine labels were printed by Tapp Technologies, Napa Valley, CA. Nixon, a previous Tapp employee, knew firsthand the level of quality the converter was capable of providing, and was thus confident his label concept would be brought to life and executed to its fullest potential. But the typical wine maker might not be as aware, and knowledge of material selection is critical.
Travis Pollard, digital business manager for Tapp Technologies, emphasizes substrate choice as being an important piece of the Banknote project. “When Pete approached us with his label vision and the goal of producing digital labels to support his brand strategy, we suggested he use Avery Dennison’s Fasson Estate Label No. 8, a bright white, uncoated vellum material optimized for digital performance. The vellum facestock combines a rough, porous surface, with a rich textile feel. In addition, a permanent emulsion acrylic adhesive, Fasson’s S100R, was specified. By matching the right substrate material to the printing technology, we were able to maximize the inherent strengths of both the material and the printing method,” Pollard says. “It offers the best opportunity for bringing a label design to fruition.”
Not only do substrates have to handle the added value that they’ll eventually be adorned with, they also have to withstand the environments a bottle of wine might be placed in.
“One of the very important factors that challenges the wine label market is the durability of the materials,” says Kathy Popovich, marketing director for ILS. “Truly, the labels here need to perform in some pretty extreme environments. It is important to make sure to spec scuff-resistant varnishes as well as choose materials that have good wet strength – the labels need to survive refrigeration and ice buckets.”
Testing is a big part of the substrate selecting process. “Durability is key,” states Jeff Salisbury, president of Label Impressions, Orange, CA. “Anyone producing a wine label must have the right testing equipment and testing protocol to ensure that the wine label holds up to the client requirements – typically very high rub resistance. And getting the right rub/abrasion resistance is paramount. We've spent years formulating and testing the right combination of coatings to ensure rub resistance that often exceeds 1,000 rubs on a Sutherland rub tester – the gold standard for measuring rub resistance.”
Metallic materials for substrates continue to be a large request at ILS, says Popovich, as “it allows the designer to create areas of dimension and metallic accents, without the use of hot stamp or metallic inks. By varying the ink coverage, this is easily accomplished,” she says. ILS is also seeing more innovation in finishing and design tools including the company’s Crsytal Cachet, a cast and cure technology that provides a cost effective holographic look without any VOCs, to the recent introduction of Color-Logic’s decorative effects plug-in and printing license.
Masterpiece Graphix (MGX), Fenton, MO, USA, is one substrate supplier that has keyed in on the wine market. The company manufactures a wide range of digital labelstocks for the HP Indigo, and is also a Xeikon-authorized treatment center for metalized substrates. “Our treatment capabilities and custom stocking options allow Masterpiece Graphix to supply virtually any desired wine labelstock and make it digital-ready to run flawlessly on the HP Indigo,” says Theresa Davinroy, marketing for MGX. “Therefore, many conventional press users opt to allow us to digitally treat the substrates they also use for flexo printing so they can utilize the same stocks for their HP Indigo. Our recent expansion of our warehouse also allows us to take the hassle out of managing digital inventory, including warehousing materials for customers so they are ready to ship the same day when they need them,” she adds.
“Digital’s impact on wine labeling has been phenomenal,” states Dan Lawellin, digital materials expert at MGX. “The ability to go back and work directly with the wineries on a specialized basis is a big advantage,” he says. “Digital is great for specialized, and serial-numbered runs. Customization is a big trend we’re seeing. With digital, you can create a specialized bottle of wine, with someone’s name on it for example. For ‘one-offs’ it’s really created a lot of opportunities.”
Lawellin notes that digital has also had an effect on the mass market as well. There’s no longer that large amount of overhead that you have to inventory,” he says. MGX has also partnered with Color Logic, which Lawellin says has had a large role in the growth of the foil look for short runs.
“When it comes to the labeling market there is much to consider, mostly that you are taking a substrate and adding value to it,” says David Sambo, VP of offset sales for INX International, Schaumburg, IL, USA. “There are substrates that simply cannot satisfy the demands of a wine and spirits label design. Substrates are becoming more unique with the effects of wood, cloth and silk appearances and feel. Printing on these materials becomes more of a challenge because the inks and coatings must have great adhesion and luster. In addition, they must be able to withstand the rigors of printing, gluing, foil stamping, bronzing, embossing and diecutting. Hybrid roll-to-roll presses are constantly changing to accommodate these trends with additional inline capabilities. The converting end is an ever-changing process,” he says.
Fasson’s David Collins says digitally optimized PS facestocks ensure high-quality printing on par with what’s being produced for labeling 10 million cases of a single varietal a year. “So, you combine that with the digital technology and you’re looking at somebody with a relatively expensive case of wine being able to produce a label that fits the persona they’re trying to present. Digital does a very good job of leveling the playing field.
“Pretty much all the big wineries are doing digital to a point. It allows high-quality branding at a much lower price point compared to offset and flexo. For the most part, with the finishing equipment that exists today, you can do the same high-quality label digitally that you can do via offset, which is appropriate if you’re producing a bottling run of just 20,000 cases,” Collins says.
The nature of today’s wine labeling market, with its varied materials and designs, more complex label shapes, and shorter, more frequent production runs, has also paved the way for new and different label printing machinery.
Roland’s Oransky notes a digital print technology the company has developed that he sees as an ideal fit for the wine labeling market. He says, “Roland’s VersaUV LEC series of UV-LED inkjet printer/cutters allows you to run on very thin films and then diecut the labels into interesting shapes.” VersaUV also features clear ink that enables varnishing and embossing effects for a high-end look. “The entire production process is completed on the printer in one seamless workflow,” Oransky says.
Roland’s VersaUVLEC inkjet printer
INX International considers its NW100 narrow web digital label printer to be a great choice for wine label printing. Jim Lambert, VP and GM of INX International’s digital division, says, “It offers many advantages when compared to a traditional printing press, including a short setup time and variable data printing. This printer is perfect for short-to-medium size runs, offers pre-cut label printing or a custom finish with an optional laser diecutter, and can produce quick sample label printing.”
INX also has available the new CP100 cylindrical digital printer, which Lambert says possesses all of the benefits of digital printing with the ability of printing directly on the wine bottle, thus eliminating paper labels. “Both digital printers are part of our Evolve Advanced Digital Solutions, a new technological platform that we successfully introduced to the market in 2010,” Lambert says.
Label-less wine labels
Ultimately, an effective wine label is the one that stands out on store shelves. And while PS and glue-applied labels dominate the market, Emeryville, CA-based Monvera is another company that makes the case for going paperless. Monvera specializes in what it calls “glass décor,” its screen printed decoration technology.
“Our business is increasing steadily, which indicates that more and more wineries are looking to paperless labels as a means of driving sales,” says James Jordan, Monvera’s marketing and brand manager. “While less than 1 percent of wines are currently screen printed, wineries are beginning to realize that paperless labeling techniques can really help differentiate their packaging from the sea of paper labels that exist on the market today.”
Monvera’s screen printed full wrap label allows art to cover the full 360° surface of the bottle.
Monvera provides paperless labels for glass bottles in general – including wines, spirits, beers, perfumes and specialty food products. “Paperless labels are applied directly to the surface of the glass and then sent through a Lehr oven where the art and bottle become permanently bonded together,” Jordan says. Artwork is separated by color and transferred to fine mesh screens. Ink is laid on top of the screens and pushed through by a squeegee onto the bottle, which rotates across the screen's surface from the opposite side,” Jordan explains.
What are the advantages of going paperless? “The obvious advantage is durability,” Jordan says. “A paperless label cannot peel or fray, won't bubble up or smear if it gets wet, and is highly resistant to scuffs and scratching. Paperless labels also serve a security function in that they cannot be removed. Your brand and bottle are one.”
For designers, paperless wine labels also allow unprinted bottle space to play a much stronger role in the design. “For instance,” Jordan says, “a well conceived single color label can actually look like two colors when bottle space is used to bring out finer details in the art. The Tentacle from Eight Arms Cellars is a wonderful example. The label is printed entirely in a cream color, but details in the arms of the octopus are conveyed by the dark surface of the bottle. The result is stunning, and highly cost-effective.”
Monvera’s design services focus primarily on helping clients with existing paper labels make a transition to screen printing. We will evaluate the existing label, consult with the client on ideas, and then create digital mockups to show the client what the new paperless design will look like on a bottle. After that, we finalize the design process with art proofs and then print actual physical samples for our clients to evaluate,” Jordan says. “We maintain strong relationships with great designers for prospective clients who are looking to have a label designed from scratch. It’s so important to start with a strong, well-considered labeling concept.”
Thinking outside the bottle
Shaping a brand, in any market, involves cultivating perceptions. The more detail you can share about your product, and the more consistently you’re able to do it, the better opportunity you have to tell your story. Extended text labels might not be something that’s typically associated with the wine market, however, they’re a great way to tell a story.
WS Packaging designed this extended content back label for Cline Cellars of California.
“When I saw the recipe tear pads, I asked the simple question of whether or not it might be more effective to include a recipe on every bottle by switching the standard back label to an extended text label,” says Dan Hughes, senior account executive with WS Packaging Group, Green Bay, WI, USA, the label converter that works with Cline Cellars. “I also pointed out that the label had enough space to allow additional information about the winery or wine.”
Up to this point, the back label for the Ancient Vines Zinfandel was typical. It combined a little detail about the wine with the standard regulatory text. But being able to exponentially expand the label real estate offered the opportunity to fulfill the brand promise at a higher level.
“The new label format was an ideal way to combine a recipe for those interested in food with information about the vineyards for those interested in wine history,” adds Peggy Phelan, director of operations with Cline Cellars. “The more information we can give our customers about our brand – the history, the vineyards, the wine, the farming practices – the better.”
WS Packaging recommended its EasyTab extended text label for the Cline Cellars job. The converter holds three patents on EasyTab, which is engineered to meet the regulatory requirement that allows consumers to open, read and reseal the label. Its patented pre-curve is designed for tight-diameter surfaces, and avoids edge lift and wrinkling when machine applied. It also features a consumer-friendly “peel tab” that protects overall package integrity.
The new back label incorporates five panels and has received federal label compliance approval. It is printed on 60# CS2 (coated two sides) raw labelstock and over-laminated with 2.0-mil polypropylene adhered to a semi-gloss base label. “The EasyTab labels are applied with standard labeling equipment, which keeps costs to a minimum and production speeds high,” Hughes says.
The design aspect
Wine makers and sellers know how important a label is to sales. With wine, the label is a piece of art. Long gone are the days of austere, one- or two-color wine labels. Today, the shelves of the wine shop are bursting with color and imagery. Brand owners know that the first sale is crucial, and establishing a relationship with the consumer is everything. It’s fair to say that the wine itself will inspire a repurchase, but that label is integral to getting that bottle home for the first time.
And that brings us to the label designers themselves. With all that’s been said about the wine label’s importance, the interplay between the designer, the wine maker and the label printer is pivotal.
Ortega Design Studio, St. Helena, CA, has been designing wine labels for over 30 years, and owners and designers Susann Ortega and Joann Ortega Snowden have seen and been a part of the evolution on wine labels. For them, one of the first and most important steps in the process begins with meeting the clients.
“We want to know who they are, how they want to portray their winery, their philosophy of winemaking, their heritage,” says Susan Ortega. “We visit the vineyards and the winery, taking photos as resource material. With the information we’ve learned, we return to our studio to begin the process of exploring and developing visual images. We will make three – and sometimes more – design presentations in the evolution of a completed design. The creation process takes from several weeks to months, depending upon the complexity of the task. The ultimate label package design must harmoniously blend the size, shape and color of the bottle, as well as the type of closure. Physical requirements such as the type and capacity of the labeler must be considered and the entire package must, of course, be TTB-compliant (US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau).”
After the label has been approved, the designers work closely with a knowledgeable printer in the production of the new label. “Print production is a critical stage in the successful development of a wine package. Selection of a printer who specializes in wine package printing will ensure quality and consistency of the final product,” Ortega says.
Ortega says that one of the more challenging jobs has been the design of the Marilyn Merlot Wines, produced by Nova Wines Inc. “Beginning with the label for the 1989 vintage, we have created more than two decades of all the renowned collectible series products. Seeking a way to package wine with 10 of Tom Kelley’s photographs from the famous 1949 calendar portraits of Marilyn Monroe against a red velvet background, the Nova partners asked us to design a package that would be aesthetic and accepted by the TTB for the Velvet Collection. Our solution was a design of sparkling “fairy-dusting” over the unclothed reclining figure of Marilyn. A red holographic hot foil is stamped on a clear removable top layer that allows one to ‘see’ the original photo, through the diecut window in the sealed, luxurious leather-like box, yet not give it all away until a customer has purchased the wine and “peels-off” the top layer of the label,” Ortega says.
In today’s world, wine labels have become as much a visual artistic statement as an eye-catching tool to promote sales. Ortega says, “They establish an identity for the product and a sense of self for the producers.”