Killer Label Design Sells Out Wine In Record Time

Article Two on Screen-Printed Wine Labels

By Paula Sugarman

Some labels are good, some bad, and some are like tacky neon thongs that even the most respectable stripper in Vegas wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. In my last entry, I wrote about a few of those labels, but I’m not sure I gave them a fair evaluation. Today we’re highlighting two more screen-printed designs and the costs associated with large and small print runs in that medium.

A great example of high volume screen-printed wine branding is the very clever Dearly Beloved produced by HDD Wines. It launched last fall (2011) in Trader Joe’s in time for Halloween and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Teresa Mengali at HDD Wines told me their winemaker came up with the idea while admiring a Dia de los Muertos statue in her home. Inspired by the holiday’s Mexican folk art imagery, British design agency Stranger and Stranger created an elegant and hip version of skulls and flowers that drew lots of attention on the shelf. The proprietary wine name, Forever Red, plays on the words Forever Dead. The copy digs further into the macabre, ending with the words “back to the earth”.

Mengali said, “We played with various substrates, but at the end of the day it was all too clear that the only way to do justice to the artwork would be to screen-print.” Printing directly on the bottle allowed them to make the image larger than they ever could with a paper label.

At that point, they called Mike Bergin, director of sales at Bergin Glass Impressions. They wanted the vintage to retail exclusively at Trader Joe’s for $6.99, with an initial launch of 20,000 cases. In this case, screen printing turned out to be über economical. Bergin said they were able to offer a very aggressive price due to the high volume and time of the year it was ordered. According to Mengali, the outcome was “AWESOME!” Sales were massively successful and the wine sold out in about two weeks. Kudos go to Stranger and Stranger for their arresting work. Mengali said she couldn’t have done it without them.

It costs a bit more to screen-print smaller runs. Eight Arms Cellars is a gorgeous specimen of maximizing the impact of screen-printing. Iian Boltin started the winery in 2006. He quickly learned that running a small winery required eight hands, and thus, he named it Eight Arms Cellars. His first vintage was in 2008 with a run of 150 cases. The cost for screen-printed bottles was about double what printed labels would have been, but he felt it was worth the investment to make a statement and develop distinction for his brand. At their current quantities, screen-printing costs only a few cents more than paper labels and creates a powerful draw on the retail shelf. I asked Iian if the additional cost of screen-printing has been worth it and he responded with an emphatic “Yes!” He’s certain the decision has been pivotal in increasing the value of his brand.

Iian confided that wine sales are stronger for them in California. Other states may find their branding style a little too “out there”. White tablecloth restaurants have also been slower to adopt, usually looking for wine labels of a more traditional nature. This probably has more to do with the subject of the art than with the medium of screen-printing. I have only seen Eight Arms Cellar’s Tentacle and Argonaut in photos, as they aren’t yet available in my area. I can’t wait to see the real thing; I have a feeling they’ll end up in my shopping cart.

Both vintages from Eight Arms Cellars are stunning examples of highest and best use in screen-printed design. They win the “Wish We Designed That” award and are great ambassadors for screen-printed wine label art. The octopus imagery in Tentacle Syrah and Argonaut Sauvignon Blanc exemplifies the benefit of using the full bottle as a canvas. Simple, yet detailed, the illustrations are captivating and both work well in only one color.

When I began these articles about screen-printed wine art, my opinion was that the additional cost was an expense to be reserved for large volume wineries or high dollar wines. But I’ve changed my mind. The value in brand recognition for a boutique winery can far exceed the few more pennies per bottle spent on screen-printing. In either case, however, it’s the power of the design that creates shelf presence and memorability.


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.





6 thoughts on “Killer Label Design Sells Out Wine In Record Time

  1. Paula Post author

    Agreed, simple is the most difficult to design. But there’s a time and a place for everything. This is a great subject for a future article.
    If all wine label brands were simple and classic in design, they all would look similar (and little product differentiation). Moreover, not all wine label design needs to last forever, what it needs to do is sell wine. Great design does not need to be classic in order to be successful or done with panache. As designers we have the responsibility to educate and define good design, but I find the genre of classic to be a little too narrow.
    - Paula

  2. Paula Post author

    Ah, so you are the winemaker! Yes, as I wrote in the article, Teresa told me you came up with the Day of the Dead concept. I didn’t know the name was yours too. Thanks for pointing that out. I have seen some amazing Dia de los Muertos art while in Mexico City. Is yours sculpture or painted graphics?

  3. andrew

    All this hysterical fluffed up hype. … these labels won’t last.
    As you know, simple is the most difficult thing to do…
    So, why are you celebrating this rather than the classic – that thing that will last fifty years as well build a brand?
    Coco nods.
    Design has considerable responsibilites – hope you’re on board.
    Can we reach a little deeper, please?

    PS: yea, I’m ACCD too (from a long time ago) not that that was the end-all..

  4. virginia lambrix

    Hi Paula,

    Thank you for writing this article. I just want to make sure credit is given where it is due. I had the idea for the name Dearly Beloved and that it should be something Day of the Deadish. But what Stranger and Stranger came up with from that concept was amazing and way beyond the ideas/images that I sent them. If I had been in charge of designing the label from that initial idea- it would have been in the bargain bin…

    Virginia Lambrix

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