Labels for a New Winery — Think — But Don’t Over Think

By. Neil Williamson, GMG

smv cab francWorking with new wineries I am amazed at the amount of time and energy put into the label creative process.  While I have written about the importance of being consistent and telling a unique story, time is a limited quantity and it is critical that the other marketing elements receive equal if not greater time than your label.

Grumpy Marketing Guy Rule – For every man hour a new winery works on a label design, at LEAST two hours should be spent on other specific marketing objectives.

Please let me explain.

When a new winery opens their doors, and for a substantial time thereafter, the vast majority of sales will be through the tasting room (also known as out the cellar room door).  Wineries that understand this paradigm know that the only wines they will be competing with for attention on the shelf are their own.

A first time label must be competent and include not only the federal mandates but also a few other marketing mandates.

1.  Uniform Product Code (UPC) – While at first the new winery may not need the UPC for tracking sales and inventory, in the future they and others will.  It is much better to plan for this in your label design now rather than having to add a UPC label to bottles after the need has been established.  I once worked with a winery owner to bring a tanker of French Merlot to the United States and bottle it as a private label for a restaurant.  I unsuccessfully advocated for the UPC on the bottle, he had to hand label over 200 cases after the restaurant failed to make sales objectives.

2. Web address – This seems to be commonplace but even 15 years after the internet took over the world I still find wineries not putting their web address on their labels.

3. Physical address – while this is a part of federal labeling requirements I encourage wineries to think Wine is from a place — not a PO Box

4. Phone Number – see #3

4. Signature – People like to relate to people, I encourage wineries to allow their winemaker or owner’s signature appear on the label with some brief testimonial to wine making goals and objectives.

Other ideas –

Directions to the winery – I tend to believe the limited real estate on the label can be better used than directions.

QR Codes – I believe the jury is still out on the use (or non use) of QR codes.  If you like them use them but track if people are accessing your information from the codes.

Photos – Call me old fashoned but unless it is an unbelievable photo of the fruit that went into the bottle – I tend to steer away from photography on labels

Numbering – I have done the sequential numbering process and it is easier today than ten years ago but unless you are producing a highly allocated wine, I think the meaning is lost on many consumers.

Your label is a part of your business identity be proud of it but don’t over think it.



What’s Your Story?

By Neil Williamson, Grumpy Marketing Guy

In considering developing, creating or honing your winery’s brand position, I encourage clients to take a long look in the mirror.  What makes your wine different than ALL the other wine that is out in the market?  Newly minted marketing guys (and gals) like to discuss your USP, Unique Selling Proposition.  Back in 2009, An Economist magazine article defined the USP in this way:

A unique selling proposition (USP) is a description of the qualities that are unique to a particular product or service and that differentiate it in a way which will make customers purchase it rather than its rivals.

Rather than using the USP verbiage, I find that a more in New York style question of “What’s Your Story?” generally drives the brand awareness conversation.  Everyone has a story to tell and told properly these stories can help to sell your wine.  Stories/ideas that have worked include tying to the real or imagined vineyard location (Pine Ridge, Silver Ridge, Pillar Bluff), linking in with celebrity ownership (Coppola Estate, Newman’s Own, Andretti Winery), or elevating a winery/vineyard process (Toasted Head, Barrel Oak, Twisted Vines).

One “encore career” client demonstrated the ability to not only identify his USP but to wrap his brand around it.  Jim Turpin of Democracy Vineyards is a self described “recovering lobbyist”.  His back story of politics in both the Virginia State Capital and the Nation’s Capital made for the selection of the winery name somewhat a no brainer but he and DV owner Susan Prokop took the concept even further.

Turpin wears bright red white and blue outfits to festivals and other winery owners have taken to calling him Captain America.  Each of Democracy’s custom crush wines have  names that evoke the concept of Democracy.  There portfolio currently includes Velvet Revolution, Declaration, Emancipation, Sufferage, Unum, Parliment and Alabaster.

Another wine brand I use in these discussions is South African Winery Mulderbosch “Faithful Hound” brand.  In addition to being a fantastic red blend year after year.  I have witness folks break into tears when reading the story printed on the label, that tells the tale of the dog, whose owner moved but returned every evening to sit on the porch and wait for his return, the dog died with his love unrequited.  This is a wine with a story.

Another way to look at the nurturing of a brand is understanding how you, or the winery owner, or the grower or the winemaker are the face of the winery.  People want to know people.  They love getting inside scoop on the upcoming vintages or harvest so they can impress their friends with their understanding of the business.   The best person to be your “face” may not be the owner.  But a word of caution, if you invest significant brand equity in an employee or partner, recognize this as a strategic decision and think how you will respond when they move on.

Above all else be true to who you are in your brand positioning.  If you can’t stand dogs, don’t put a dog on your label.  Just like fear, consumers smell phony from a mile away.  In addition, if you don’t believe it why should anyone else.

Here’s your homework, sit down with a pad of paper and write down ten things about you that make you unique and think of how you might integrate these into your brand positioning.  It may not be a label concept at all.  One client was an avid Ford F-150 driver.  That’s all he owned his entire life a series of these Ford Trucks.  Rather than put that into the label concept we simply added a new title to his signature Winemaker & F-150 Driver.

You have to be genuine, interesting and unique.  It’s all that easy and it’s all that hard.

Respectfully Submitted,


photo credits: Andretti Winery, Neon Cactus Wines