Do you buy a wine based on the appeal of the label? For the longest time, I thought the more clever the label, the more likely the wine would be found lacking. Remember Fat Bastard? The first time we bought a bottle, everyone just kept saying –
“Can you pass the Fat Bastard?” No, we were not 12 at the time.
Then there was Girl’s Night Out, Cat’s Pee, Goats Do Roam, Zin Sin, Mad Housewife – the list goes on. The labels grabbed your attention – designed to appeal to the young wine consumers who buy with the eye.
Fat Bastard and Australia’s Yellow Tail became marketing phenomena. They demystified wine – appealling to the consumer who found wine labels confusing and stuffy. While wine writers turned up their noses at Fat Bastard – the wine went from selling 2500 cases in 1997 to $35 million dollars a year by 2006.
Their success had winemakers taking notice and triggered a trend of visually stunning labels on wine, often with a great taste to match.
While most of the Old World wines hung on to tradition, the New World embraced the art of the label and reveled in flouting the old ways. Their labels are works of art that reveal the personality and the story behind the wine. The appeal can be strictly visual or it can strike a chord that you can relate to. I confess. I have bought Wit’s End, The Procrastinator and Writer’s Block wines.
Toronto writer Tanya Scholes compiled some of the greatest labels in her book The Art and Design of Contemporary Wine Labels. It is a fascinating compilation of gorgeous, clever, irreverent labels and the philosophy behind them. She says more and more winemakers are using their labels as a canvas – designed to catch the eye in a sea of competition. But they also offer extra details about the history and philosophy of the wine or the winemaker without sounding pretentious.
The focus on the label is also aimed at making it memorable. If you loved the wine, you’ll remember that stand-out label. It can also backfire. If the wine did not make the grade, that consumer will remember which bottle NOT to buy. It is still about what’s inside the bottle. Whether it is a cheap and cheerful Yellow Tail for the consumer who knows exactly what he’s getting for $10 a bottle, or a complex superstar that sells for a small fortune.
“A good label engages a consumer before the wine is tasted; a great one seems at home on its chosen bottle and lingers in the mind long after the bottle is empty,” Martin Malivoire of Malivoire Wine Company maker of Ladybug Rose told Scholes.
While Californians and Australians are at the forefront of label art – some Canadian producers are catching up with their own outstanding labels.
BC’s irreverent Blasted Church Vineyards tells the story of a local effort to relocate a church.
Organized Crime on the Beamsville Bench immortalizes a stolen organ that polarized two Mennonite communities in the 1900’s.
And one of my personal favorites: Megalomaniac Wines with its punchy graphic labels on its Sonofabitch Pinot Noir, My Way Chardonnay, Coldhearted Cab Franc and the Narcissist Riesling label that took top honours at an international competition in 2007.
There are so many other great ones featured in Scholes’ book.
Mollydooker which I freely admit I bought for the label, but it was the taste that sent me back for more.
Boony Doon Vineyards‘ Le Cigar Volant with its design of a flying Cigar (UFO) over a vineyard.
And Salcheto, the winery in Montepulciano, Italy that changes its label on its Salco wine each year – from prize winning photos, to designs highlighting some of the greatest drummers of all time.
So the next time you pick up a bottle – know that the eye-catching label on the outside may be ever bit as fascinating and memorable as what’s on the inside.
Send us a picture of your favourite label.