Tell the Truth, Tell a Lie, Use a Hammer

by Paula Sugarman

Every winery wants branding that’s distinctive. Wine labels are responsible for creating that most important first impression with the consumer, and it typically happens one of two ways: with an unusually attractive, unique design, or with commanding — maybe even startling — graphics that stand out in today’s crowded beverage aisle. Let’s take a closer look at different techniques.

Tell the truth

Starting with a real story lends a rich foundation that can’t be derived any other way. It’s this connection that makes wine magical and creates the most interesting and memorable stories. Blasted Church Vineyards is an explosive example. I stumbled across this brand while in Canada last year, I had not yet seen them in the US. I thought the name was an irreverent poke at religion, but it turns out there really is a blasted church, which makes it even more appealing. This imaginative branding, created by Brandever, a Vancouver design firm, has brought untold recognition and good press to the Okanagan Valley winery.

In 2002 the new owners of Prpich Winery were having an identity crisis.  Brandever recommended changing the name to Blasted Church after a nearby landmark. The series of unique labels tells the true story of the little mining era church that had been dismantled with the help of four dynamite sticks, and then moved to Okanagan Falls in the 1930’s.

“Today, Blasted Church has grown over tenfold in sales, has become one of the most recognized, and admired wineries in Canada, and is proudly served by the best restaurants and wine merchants across the country. Amen.”

Starting this year, Blasted Church unveiled a revamped brand design playing off the old labels but adding even more quirkiness to the amusing concepts. Brandever sent these labels for your viewing, making you among the first to see them.

Tell a Lie

Of course pigs don’t fly, and frogs aren’t bionic, but I suspect French winemaker, Christophe Baron might simply be making a play on words. These wines from Cayuse Vineyards haven’t been seen much in the marketplace since they are so highly sought after. The images are a surprise for such high priced vintages, but the fanciful names do make for interesting stories.

Then there’s Big House Red, a quintessential example of stretching the truth for a clever story. This popular brand has been having fun with the unlikely subject of prison life for many years. Check out their website at From solitary confinement, to the mess hall, to the exercise yard, the slightly shocking banter never stops.

Use a Hammer
Falling under definition two for distinctive branding, these labels are visually forceful and demand your attention in the store. I call it the hammer effect. Designers accomplish this by providing contrast with the competition, often by size, color or shape. In addition to getting noticed, the image must also inspire the buyer to put the wine in their cart. The labels below seem to do the job.

New Age White – The stark vertical and large type size make this label shout. The colors and font make us think of Vodka or some kind of hard liquor.  Turn the bottle around when you get a chance. There’s a surprise on the back.

Pillar Box Red - Talk about a hammer… I picked up this Australian wine at our local Costco. The solid red labels are right out of the macho toolbox and the shipper case carries even more of a wallop. I took the shot below at the risk of being ushered out of the store (it wouldn’t be the first time). Although the red coloring is the only hint, the Pillar Box line is named for the ubiquitous red Pillar Boxes (mailboxes) that first appeared in the Australia’s Padthaway region in the 1850s. Other varietals such as Postmistress and Morse Code carry on the postal theme.

Cala Blanca Verdejo - Four of these bottles lined up together create a colorful and effective billboard.

While there are many ways to create distinctive branding, the mantra of truth and authenticity continues to emerge as the most effective strategy. The best inspiration comes from passions and characteristics unique to your winery. That special viewpoint gives marketers a way to differentiate the brand and consumers a way to connect to it. I suspect we’ll see a resurgence of this approach in wine label design.


Paula Sugarman is owner and creative director of Sugarman Design Group, a California graphic design studio specializing in brand identity, wine label design and food package design.


A special thanks to the folks at Brandever and Blasted Church Vineyards:
Laurie Millotte, Brandever/Bernie Hadley-Beauregard, Brandever, art directors/designers; Chris Sickels, Red Nose Studio, illustrator; Evelyn Campbell, Blasted Church Vineyards, client.

3 thoughts on “Tell the Truth, Tell a Lie, Use a Hammer

  1. Pingback: It’s Not All About the Feel-Good Fluid | Marcella Marie Pérez

  2. admin Post author

    Yup, I admit…I buy for the labels too. But I always appreciate the wines of my friends who are true wine collectors. We all have different priorities.

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