Wine Is Fashion & Beverage Aisles Are Our Runway

Let’s face it, wine is fashion. “One day you’re in and the next day you’re out,” as Heidi Klum would say.  Likewise, some brand names and label styles have longevity and some are gone before the models have left the runway. Let’s look at some recent trends in wine brand names: the “Ralph Lauren” classics – here for the long haul – and Nelly’s Grillz; here today, gone tomorrow.

Names With Legs
Folie à Deux, started by two psychiatrists in 1981, means “a madness shared by two.” The reference is reinforced by the Rorschach dancers in the logo. If wine is a wardrobe, Folie has enjoyed the staying power of the classic Oxford shirt. And we can’t forget Fat Bastard, the French Chardonnay that began life as an expletive. 


There is one wine which I often use as an example of extraordinary marketing savvy (Wines & Vines, May 06). 7 Deadly Zins borrows equity from history’s best-selling book, the Bible. Voila! Instant recognition by consumers of all ages. I’m inspired to look for witty quips about scripture on the back label. We all know once it’s in my hand, there’s an even better chance it will end up in my shopping cart. I’ll remember 7 Deadly Zins as the one that prays, “Oh Lord, forgive me my Zins.” 

Call me a dork, but it wasn’t until I researched the origin of the seven deadly sins that I realized Cardinal Zin is inspired by the same biblical concept (7 Deadly Sins). Maybe I missed this in Sunday school because I’m Jewish?

Names That Describe Time Periods
Recovery Red by Spann Vineyards in Glen Ellen California is fun because of its fiscal optimism. This proprietary name may have a limited lifespan depending on the way our economy plays out. Owners Peter and Betsy leverage our current tenuous situation with humor. Recovery Red’s first vintage sold out, but more will be on the way next year. 

Website prose purports the wine to be:
“Ideal with bull, makes bear more tolerable, highly recommended if eating crow.”
(Spann Recovery Red

They further disclose:
“1) No federal bailout money was used to produce this wine. 2) None of our employees received bonuses in excess of $250,000.”

Cheeky  Names
So you’ve noticed them, eh? A couple of different varieties: These are the quirkies, geared toward the Millennials, the wine world’s fastest-growing market segment (Millenials). The quirkonyms are multiplying like Coach logos on a faux leather purse…one word wonders like Jargon, Twisted, Brazin, Edge, and Fuse. Other humorous varieties have become well-worn classics, much like a well-worn pair of jeans.

The evolution of Screw Kappa Napa, vintages 2002, 2003, and just released 2007

The evolution of Screw Kappa Napa, vintages 2002, 2003, and just released 2007

Screw Kappa Napa has stirred lively discussion; probably too much, since the name changed about 7 months ago to S|K|N. Afraid my theory about memorable names was in ruins, I called Don Sebastiani and Sons to get the scoop. Apparently it was meant to be a “subtle” change, making it a little less in your face (like my passive-aggressive mother, may she rest in peace). Parodied on screw caps, the concept was an attempt to poke fun at uptight Napa wines. A great deal of spectators responded positively, but just as many were offended by the use of a certain “S” word. Maybe we should call it a “Threaded Tubing Closure.” It reminds me of my childhood neighbor, Mrs. Twoshoes. She was on a one-woman mission to find and replace public library books with cuss words in them. Look out Home Depot, I see a name change for a whole department coming your way. At any rate, S|K|N’s label still says Screw Kappa; it has just been politically correctified to appease Mrs.Twoshoes. (skroo kap-uh nap-uh).

Ghost Names
There seems to be a growing trend of virtual wine brands with no physical, brick and mortar winery associated with them. Back labels read: “Vinted and bottled by PromisQous”, or “Vinted and bottled by Monogamy”. These snarky names give no indication of quality, integrity or style, but are right on target and price point for a young market. Some wine watchers even suggest these savvy names are fetching $4 more per bottle than the quality of the wine that’s inside.


Ghost Brands are often the brainchildren of smaller wineries whose brands have met with such success they exceed the capacity of their facilities. They sell to one of the large consolidators, and who can beat that? Other times, Ghost Brands are used as an opportunity to try on a swanky new dress without mussing the image of established brands. This makes me wonder if some are designed to be disposable. Will they whiz through the market as quickly as Hannah Montana’s Spring Collection? And is this a good thing for small wineries, the guys who foster innovation? Let’s check back in another decade.

Be them racy names, ones with legs, or eerily transparent, one thing is for sure: Wines, like fashion, have reached a point where marketing and merchandising play as important a role as making the product. There are some names we can count on for quality, like a Brooks Brothers suit. There are others which step out and take risks on both the part of the winemaker and the buyer. The Millennials are driving the trends at the moment. As they mature into more sophisticated consumers, it’s likely the tastes of our newbie drinkers will evolve from hot pants to haute couture.


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. 



Special thanks to Michael Peck of S|K|N.

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