The Power of Packaging Meets the Art of Wine
(Wine Enthusiast, May 1996)
The most visible trend in the wine industry in the '90s has been aggressive packaging. Scores of wineries have redesigned their labels; several huge producers (Robert Mondavi, Kendall-Jackson, Fetzer) have trailblazed the foil-free "flange” top; still others have experimented with odd bottle shapes, environmentally conscious detailing, even blue glass. In short, it's a jumble out there.
To take stock of this trend, we decided to shed our wine-oriented perspective and go "outside the box.” We enlisted the minds and eyes of leading graphic designers in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, asking them to browse the shelves of their local wine shops and tell us which five bottles they liked best, and why. As experts in commercial graphics and advertising, they brought to the task a fresh perspective, with “viewing notes” expressed in language that is every bit as specialized as what wine critics use when assessing what's inside the bottle.
Tre Monti Sangiovese di Romagna. This simple bottle, tall and dark, is well complemented by a very simple but effective label placed high on the bottle. Condensed Italianate type is set in two tiers above three interlocking arcs which represent the “tre monti.” The combination of violet and pink arcs is unexpectedly elegant, given that this is far from a high-class wine.
St. Supéry Moscato. For this sweet white wine, St. Supéry produced what struck me as the nicest variation on their standard label design. Its elements are classically centered and nicely spaced along a vertically divided two-tone background warm in peach and white. But the regularity is also relieved by a small embossed illustration in a disk, suggesting the bacchanal of some classical sun-god.
Château Lafite Rothschild. This bottle is surprisingly homey. Its rich red foil is decorated with a simple line drawing of the château, complemented by a more elaborate but still old-fashioned engraving on the label, which depicts workers in the vineyard, with the chateau in the background. The edges of the engraving are soft, blending into the sepia-toned frame. Various styles of type are nicely mixed. The whole effect is of hand-crafting.
Bonny Doon 1994 "Le Sophiste” Roussanne. A very whimsical entry, which suggests in various ways the breezy elegance of the jazz age. The label's main figure is an abstracted collage. To the right of this figure “Le Sophiste” is set vertically in type which alludes to the New Yorker logo. The crowning touch—a plastic top-hat covering the cork—is a little ridiculous, admittedly, but well in keeping with the whole aesthetic.
Robert Mondavi Tocai Friulano. This is one case where the bottle itself dominates. Smoothly but asymmetrically rounded, it suggests a fruit; it's almost pear-shaped. Besides its organic feel, the bottle has a hand-blown look, a touch which was (of course) carefully engineered. The label is small and a bit over-detailed, but it has a very nice, delicate feeling. A dark green and gold arched frame encloses a vignette: an engraving in green, amber and purple of a man enjoying nature's fruitfulness.
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First published in Wine Enthusiast (May 1996)