Your Wine’s Visual Brand Story. How Well Does It Work?

By Paula SugarmanVarious Branding Examples

Your logo and wine label are often the consumer’s first introduction to your brand. Think of it as your first date with your customer. A tuxedo will make a far better impression than a leisure suit and sets the tone for the entire evening. In this article you’ll have the opportunity to explore how well your own brand story works and if your wines are appropriately dressed for the occasion.

Logos that Create Distinction – or Do They?

The logo and logotype create the foundation of the visual brand story. The logotype (designer-ese for the brand name’s custom type solution) is often as important as the accompanying illustration or symbol in creating instant recognition. This is particularly true in heritage wines where etchings of vineyards and chateaus are so plentiful they start to look alike. They tell a relevant story, but are more than abundant in the marketplace. The logos above are from four well known brands. I left the names off to see how well they stand on their own. Can you name the brands they represent? Some work better than others. I could do an entire article on vineyards and chateaus and how effective they are in creating brand distinction.

The Five Languages of Design – Formula for Visual Brand Success

An effective package design attracts the consumer’s attention, inspires them to pick up the product and learn more, and ultimately put it in their shopping cart. In every case, the most powerful package designs incorporate The Five Languages of Design and not only sell wine, but create brand advocates. Here’s a brief description of each language and how they work.

Language 1 – Type, Imagery and Symbolism:

Uniquely stylized typography and illustration set the stage with visual elements composed in a language of universally understood and time tested symbols. The Cycles Gladiator wine label, modeled after a Parisian bicycle poster by painter G. Massais in 1895, is a great example. The symbols of an unclothed woman and wings conveyed the new spirit of freedom the invention of the bicycle ushered in. Nearly 100 years later, the distinctive Gladiator typography and unclothed woman attracts consumers of both genders to this very popular wine.
In fact, the stylized, art-nouveau rendition of the nude nymph violated the rules of the Alabama Alcoholic Control Board against displaying “a person posed in an immoral or sensuous manner”. In this case, the notoriety of the symbol worked in the winery’s favor. Visits to the company’s website increased tenfold when news of the ban broke and callers from across the country clamored to buy the wine.

Language 2 – Color and Texture
The Hammer and The Feather:

Color and texture create impact, connect with consumers and communicate price point. A recent Retail Touch Points report states that 90% of shoppers are still visiting physical retail stores to make their purchases. Once your product is in their hands, the likelihood of a sale increases exponentially. Brick and mortar retail stores still command the majority of shopper traffic because it allows buyers to physically (and sometimes emotionally) interact with your product.

Color – The Hammer

The language and meaning of different colors has been proven through the latest scientific studies. Did you know that red is the first color babies are able to see? Each color holds special properties and associations in your customer’s subconscious mind, influencing how they feel about your product.
Color is also used to attract attention on the retail shelf. Smoking Loon was one of the first unabashedly orange wine labels that I can remember. It resounded like a hammer on the retail shelf, drawing eyes away from less colorful competition. The imaginative concept of a loon smoking a cigar certainly contributed to its impact, but it was the orangey-red color that caught the consumer’s eyes first. The year Smoking Loon was launched, the Unified Wine Symposium named it a game-changer for the wine industry. Soon after, many other orange wine labels appeared along with a parade of critter brands.

Texture – The Feather

The visual and kinesthetic experience created by texture can be used to define product pricing. The tactile processes of varnishing, foiling and embossing describe products, encouraging customers to pick up the package and feel the detail. On varietals in the low price range, bright or contrasting colors are often used to stand out against the competition. Higher end wines are depicted in more sophisticated and muted colors like the wines they represent. Embosses attract attention with a lighter touch, more like a feather, describing the subtle nuances of special vintages. Old Ghost Zinfandel is one of the best examples of embossing that I can think of.

Language 3 – Shapes

Shape is used in many ways to describe products or draw the eye in. At Sugarman Design, we call this technique “creating a bullseye”. Everything from the shape of your logo, logotype, label and package design offers a unique communication experience for your customer. Shapes speak to all of us on a very basic level. Studies reveal that children as young as 18 months recognize product logos…long before they can read.
Liquor distillers have been utilizing interesting shapes to differentiate their brands for centuries. High powered executives recognize and relate to their favorite brands through these time tested bottle shapes and the textures associated with them.

Language 4 – Engagement Components

When you encourage people to look more closely at your brand by interacting, you are one step closer to an unforgettable brand story. Captivating design is one form of engagement, but these days there is so much more. And because wine is so personal, it’s ideally suited to social media.
Engagement components like URLs, QR codes, social media profiles and hashtags, consumer reviews, pairing menus and more to invite the buyer to participate with your brand, which significantly increases sales.
The highest performing businesses use consumer insights in 80% of sales and merchandising (GOOD Magazine, March 2010). “People want to trust their own judgment when it comes to buying wine, but realize they could get burned… particularly on higher-priced (>$20) purchases. Therefore, they look for knowledgeable advice before dropping their coin on the bottle. The advice comes increasingly from those that they consider friends (a group which can include people with whom they have only had an on-line relationship), but could be trumped by the advice of staff at the point of sale.” (Steve Bachmann, Vinfolio CEO)
In fact, 60% of retailers use customer reviews to increase product sales (, July 2009). The more engagement opportunities you can provide, the better chance you have of relating to your customer on a viral level.

Language 5 – Visual Impact for Shelf Differentiation

Visual impact is the orientation of all of the design languages to create a package that dominates the retail shelf or web space and speaks directly to your targeted audience. Consumers define themselves by the products they buy. Speaking to them in all five languages creates a powerful visual brand message that makes sure your customers understand you as well as you understand them.


Effective brand stories have a high OOOH!-Factor because they skillfully use all 5 languages of design. In our design process, we have a list of objectives we use internally to be sure our work is hitting the mark for our clients. For the first time, we’ve made it available online for anyone to test their brand. Take the quiz and see how your brand scores.

Does your Visual Brand Identity speak in the Five Languages of Design?
Take our free quiz to find out how you can improve your 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.

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