Washington Wines are Too Butch for this California Girl

I promised an article about Charles Smith’s latest wine labels which he calls “The Modernist Project”. Sorry for the delay… it’s been quite a struggle. I just don’t like them, don’t find them to be examples of good design, and can’t bring myself to wax positive about these black and white ink spots.

I had a bit of a giggle when I first came across Chas’ earlier House Wine and Table Wine brands (Rockin’ Wines). I enjoyed their stark in-your-face approach. However, I fail to connect with his latest batch of labels. They are unattractive and just plain unengaging. First off, unless I’m sailing in pirate territory, I’m not a big fan of skulls and crossbones. While I like grunge type and cryptic sketches, the collection fails to visually engage me. Maybe the high ratings from Robert Parker and Wine Enthusiast make visual interest unnecessary.

SkullBonesRoyalbottles_sunglasses

Bad Design, Good Marketing

Clearly I’m in the minority. The 2006 vintages pictured above, range in price from $12 to $120 per bottle and sold out. Like the labels or not, they fulfill all the objectives of successful brand messaging. Although they are very different from the House & Table Wine brands, wine afficionados immediately recognize them as Chas’ next generation. They get an A for strong branding, an A+ for shelf presence, and an award of merit for prominence in fine dining establishments. I would recognize them across a well sized restaurant. To quote Charles himself, he has used every trick up his sleeve to get your attention…and used them well.

“I return with the line-up of Heart, Skull and Old Bones. Pure and intense with a concentration and nerve that is beguiling, these are perhaps the best wines I have ever made. Big words indeed. I stand behind every one. The 2007 Royal City is no exception. I used every trick up my sleeve. This wine is an absolute treasure. With great pride, from my hands to your cellar, I offer you these wines.”

– Charles Smith

So there you have it. Charles Smith does things his own kick-ass way in both wine making and wine marketing. But his concept follows a fundamental rule of design: It doesn’t have to look pretty to be effective. True to his word: “It’s just booze – drink it!”

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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.

- www.sugarmandesigngroup.com

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