There may be more to it than meets the eye.
When it comes to wine, consumers are confronted with a dizzying array of choices from a vast number of producers, large and small, from all over the world. France alone has more than 85,000 wine growers, either independent vignerons each producing under their own label, or producers that sell their grapes to regional cooperatives such as the 33 that exist in Bordeaux. Moreover, unlike other products, wine brands do not typically advertise to their consumers. This means that, in the absence of specific knowledge, many of us tend to rely solely on the price when it comes to choosing wines. We are also heavily dependent upon the label on the bottle to convey information that we need when we make our choice. This means that a wine’s label is incredibly important to us, as well as to the producers.
While wine labels necessarily convey key information such as the brand or producer, the country and region where it was produced, the vintage (year it was produced), a quality indication such as Grand Cru, and, sometimes, the variety, or varieties, of grapes used, it is also necessary for the label to convey something even more fundamental, and that is the wine’s character, or personality.
In fact, wine producers may have been the very first “brands” in the world. Wine amphorae dating as far back 1500BCE which have been discovered at the bottom of the Aegean Sea were found to carry identification marks which would have distinguished their contents from other products, as well perhaps as other producers.
Today, wine labels need to do much more than communicate specific information. They need to set up the framework for a relationship between the consumer and the producer that will encourage the consumer to select them above all of the dozens (even hundreds) of other bottles that might be available to them at a particular moment in time. That’s quite a task for a medium that is typically just 9cm by 10cm.
But what wine producers have learned — alongside car, computer and jeans brands — is that people often buy products that reflect their concepts of themselves. “Consumers shop for meaning, not for stuff”, in other words. This presents a huge opportunity for wine producers to paint their brands large on this tiny tableau, and anyone sober enough to pay attention over the last twenty years will have noticed the revolution in wine label design that has come about as markets have expanded and spread across the world.
Helping consumers to understand the flavour of what is contained in the bottle is one way of setting up a relationship that will trigger a purchase. The label can do this in a number of ways, including the colours, graphic elements and even the texture of the label itself. Light, airy shapes, forms and colours might indicate a light, airy white wine, for example. This information is often conveyed without the consumer even being aware that this is happening, or that the questions he is asking (“what am I going to drink with my chicken dinner this evening?”) are being answered. In relation to texture, a heavy label paper would immediately indicate that a wine of quality is to be found within the glass walls of the bottle.
But the producer might want to tell a different story, particularly if they come from legacy wine producing regions such as Bordeaux. These producers, assuming that the consumer is somewhat familiar with the character of their wines, might wish to emphasise their comforting relationships with tradition, culture and the land.
There is so much potential for so much storytelling even on the tiny piece of paper that the typical wine label is made of. So the next time you’re browsing an array of wines, take a moment to check out the designs, the colours, textures and forms, and think about what they’re saying, and why one may be appealing to you more than others. It might help you to choose more consciously the next time.